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Several AIDS groups pooling resources for new home 

Forced out of Midtown by skyrocketing lease prices, a handful of local nonprofit agencies are creating a new consolidated service center on the eastern edge of downtown. Three organizations that deal with AIDS issues -- Positive Impact, AIDS Treatment Initiatives and the AIDS Survival Project -- will anchor the new facility at Ralph McGill Boulevard and Piedmont Avenue, across from the Atlanta Civic Center. The groups will move in later this month.

They'll be joined later by the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center and the Atlanta Pride Committee, says Paul Plate, Positive Impact's executive director.

"Finding this place took us a year and a half," Plate says. "We were looking for a place to all be together, to serve the community, that was accessible and inexpensive, and that was just about impossible to find."

All three anchor agencies were neighbors for nearly five years in an office building on West Peachtree Street, across from the Biltmore Hotel. That neighborhood -- and Midtown as a whole -- has enjoyed a huge real estate boom of late, as high-tech companies such as EarthLink and iXL flock to the area for its high-speed fiber optic connections, proximity to Georgia Tech and blend of hip bars and restaurants, arts venues and condos.

But the flip side of the boom market is the higher rents landlords are able to charge those high-tech clients -- rates much higher than a tiny local nonprofit can muster.

Positive Impact, which was paying $8.50 per square foot in rent, was facing a jump to $24 per square foot once the landlord finished renovating, says Plate.

"So we were out," he says.

It became apparent during the search that if the agencies wanted a location on MARTA, easily accessible to clients accustomed to coming to Midtown, they were going to have to pay higher rents. So they started looking for other advantages instead. Having their own building would be a huge bonus, since not all for-profit businesses want to share an office with agencies that pride themselves on serving marginalized clients, like the homeless or people with AIDS. In addition, the groups -- who already shared some amenities, such as a copier and fax machine -- were looking for extras, like conference rooms that they had to pay for each use in Midtown, Plate says.

The building on Ralph McGill, which used to house offices for the United Methodist Church, seems to be ideal (though the $18 per square foot cost is still much higher than their current Midtown rent). But there are other benefits. For one, the 10-year lease arrangement with Inman Park Properties allows the agencies to assume control of space as it becomes available, giving them the entire building by August 2001.

The agencies are looking for other service groups to join them, figuring that the close quarters will make it easier for the organizations to work together -- much as United Way-supported groups do in the large facility at Hurt Plaza -- and create less hassle for the clients who often deal with more than one organization at the same time, according to Guy Pujol, executive director of AIDS Treatment Initiatives.

But there is also the prospect of finding a for-profit tenant to occupy one floor of the building, using that rent to help subsidize the rest. And the lease gives the anchor agencies the ability to sell naming rights for the building, which might generate more income.

The goal, though, is to create a new service center, not raise more money, Plate says. "That's not the first priority," he says. "What we can't do without is the great rapport we all have. We think that's what will make it work."

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