In 1991, Common Ground, a nonprofit developer in Manhattan, purchased the Times Square Hotel to rehab the single room occupancy housing structure and develop supportive services. Completely refurbished in 1993, The Times Square has become a national model of supportive housing that includes retail businesses, job training, and social services.
The organization is now replicating those efforts at the former Prince George Hotel further downtown. One of Common Ground’s goals is to maximize the new site’s commercially rentable space to support its social, healthcare, and job training services. At the center of the project is the development of a 5,000 square-foot historic ballroom into a restaurant. Once operational, the restaurant might also provide training and employment for some of the estimated 500-600 residents.
Originally, Common Ground wanted to use the ballroom space to develop its own events and catering business, but with no experience in executing such a project, they knew that they would need additional technical expertise and guidance. With the help of The Enterprise Foundation, Common Ground found the partnership they required: the Strategic Work Assistance Team (SWAT) program of Bankers Trust, which earlier this year merged with Deutsche Bank.
Since 1991, the SWAT consulting services program has matched its employee volunteers with more than 100 community-based organizations. The bank works closely with intermediaries such as The Enterprise Foundation, Community Resource Exchange, Corporation for Supportive Housing, and the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, to identify appropriate nonprofits. These organizations assess the skills needs of the nonprofits, while SWAT program coordinators recruit interested bank executives and officers. The two entities then match the needs of the nonprofits with the available skilled volunteers. Many of the matches are highly defined projects that last about a month. However, some projects last as long as three months or more, depending on the bank volunteer’s commitment.
Jason Gill, business developer for the Common Ground Job Training Corporation, feels one of the most valuable things about the SWAT program is the access to information it provides. Common Ground uses the bank’s technical resources in various ways, such as evaluating offers for the ballroom space from real estate brokers, retail businesses, and other nonprofit groups.
“With Deutsche Bank’s help,” says Gill, “we quickly realized that it would meet more of our goals if we were to rent [the ballroom] out for a restaurant. Deutsche Bank was very helpful in pointing out the various risks of our options. We were actually able to sit down and analyze it through the eyes of someone who has experience in real estate, and with some sort of financial background.”
David Boyle, an analyst with Deutsche Bank’s real estate investment banking group, is the lead volunteer assisting Common Ground. Boyle shares his expertise in negotiating space, understanding the real estate market, building requirements, and the many other areas that must be taken into consideration. He’s also been helpful in providing knowledge of rental market rates, building financial models, and how to conceptualize the space. Boyle has even accompanied Common Ground to meet prospective retail tenants, and has shared knowledge on how to perform “due diligence,” or background checks.
“That’s important,” says Boyle, “because Common Ground needs to determine [a prospective tenant’s] credit worth. A nonprofit organization like Common Ground has a lot of money tied up in projects such as this one, and they don’t need to squander time or resources with entities [that] may present a credit risk.” The project’s targeted completion date is January 1, 2000.
Mike Hickey of Deutsche Bank’s Community Development Group coordinates the program. He says that though the SWAT program is not “a huge commitment,” it does take a lot of internal support. He expects the SWAT program will expand as a result of the merger.
“Corporate leadership needs to see that it’s important,” says Hickey. “Resources need to be behind it, and there need to be intermediaries in place to help to connect to organizations that need support. We look for an organization that’s poised to grow, where there may be a ‘bottleneck’ situation that’s keeping it from taking the next step. We want to go in and loosen up whatever is holding the organization back from reaching its goals. We look for that short-term, intensive work; where that type of burst of activity is going to leverage the opportunity for Deutsche Bank. The better the relationship, the more value for our Community Reinvestment Act commitment.
“But it also strengthens our relationships with community groups. More importantly, these relationships are our ‘eyes and ears’ in the community.”
Nonprofits looking for corporate partnerships need to have a very specific vision for the end result, says Gill. On the other hand, he advises a corporate consultant to be prepared to offer and be flexible with their resources. “That’s one of the things that has been helpful with Deutsche Bank. If projects change, as they often do with nonprofits, corporate consultants should be flexible enough to adjust to our needs of working with the population we serve.”