Eliza Solender: A Very Special Deal

Eliza Solender
Eliza Solender

So often it is not the size of the real estate deal or even the property that makes it very special. That is the case with the recent agreement I helped negotiate between the Deaf Action Center (DAC) and Cathedral of Hope. These two organizations knew nothing about each other until they had a chance to meet and create a special synergy. Here’s how it came together.

The Deaf Action Center was established in 1975 as an agency focused on eliminating barriers for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 1977, DAC acquired a property at 3115 Crestview with frontage on Cedar Springs, where it established its headquarters, community center and an on-site 40-unit apartment complex, all serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. Over the years, I have assisted DAC in acquiring contiguous lots for potential expansion. However, after more than 40 years and countless renovations, the development had reached the end of its useful life. The board and staff determined that the property was too strategically located to sell and to redevelop it.

DAC designed a new facility with nearly 8,400 square feet for its headquarters and community center. Through tax credits, tax-exempt bond financing and grants, the organization will demolish the existing buildings and build 100 new apartments, including a variety of efficiency, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units all equipped with modern technology that enables deaf individuals to participate in every aspect of daily life.

As with any redevelopment, there were complications. The first priority was finding nearby apartments for its tenants. Once that was accomplished, a temporary location had to be found for its administration offices and community center that serves primarily senior adults. That proved to be a significant challenge. With a limited budget, only 12- to 18-month lease term, and the need to be in the Cedar Springs area, DAC was having a difficult time finding a temporary location.

I suggested that DAC find a temporary location on its own in a nearby church. The group really tried, and they contacted numerous churches, but none of them could accommodate DAC. The situation was getting pretty desperate as the deadline for the demolition of the buildings was fast approaching. DAC Board President Dominic Lacy and DAC Executive Director Heather Hughes asked me to help figure out this big problem.

Commercial real estate brokers often have to be creative, and this situation really required that attribute! Thinking about a potential location, I remembered that another one of our clients, AIDS Interfaith Network (AIN), had temporarily housed some of its services at Cathedral of Hope at Inwood Road and Cedar Springs. AIN had recently vacated the space.

Cathedral of Hope is the world’s largest liberal Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning people.  They have been affiliated with the United Church of Christ since 2006.

A link between AIDs Interfaith Network and the church made sense, but there was no obvious link to the Deaf Action Center. I called Dan Dubree, executive director of Cathedral of Hope, and explained that DAC served the deaf and hard of hearing community and needed a temporary location. Dan’s immediate response was, “You just said the most important word: ‘community.’ Serving the community is what our church wants to do, and the Deaf Action Center is certainly part of our immediate community.”

After numerous meetings and tours, the synergy and rapport between the two organizations was heartwarming. A deal was struck that both boards approved.

Earlier this month, DAC moved its administration offices and community center into a wing of Cathedral of Hope. I am so proud of both these organizations for working with each other. They have created a special relationship that should be a model for other organizations to follow. I congratulate them.

Eliza Solender is the President of Solender/Hall, Inc. a commercial real estate brokerage firm that specializes in representing nonprofit organizations.

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