When New York City was closed in March 2020, the food delivery organization The love of God that we deliver received 3,500 calls from people seeking help in a single weekend. By the end of June of the same year, the number of daily meals she produced had increased by 2,500.
Since then, the organization, which was founded in 1986 to serve homebound AIDS patients, but over the years has expanded its mission, has recruited additional social workers and nutritionists. This squeezed the SoHo headquarters of the nonprofit for the space.
âWe have gone from pandemic to pandemic,â said Karen Pearl, President and CEO of God’s Love We Deliver.
But due to a combination of original real estate laws and timelines, the association is on the verge of expanding its operations into a long vacant building in need of a very specific tenant, for whom the love of God makes the case. The organization signed a four-year lease to occupy the North Dispensary, a historic structure in the West Village and officially a health clinic.
âIt’s like kismet,â Ms. Pearl said.
The Northern Dispensary was erected in 1831 to serve the poor residents of what was then the north of the city. Sitting on a triangular ground – and itself triangular in shape – the brick building bears a limestone plaque that says “Heal the Sick”.
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In one of those unique real estate stories in New York City, the three-story monument has been standing empty for almost as long as God’s love has existed, a quirk in a neighborhood where every building and every plot is a hot commodity.
And for more than three decades, the building, at the intersection of Christopher Street and Waverly Place, seemed destined to stand empty.
The man who bought the derelict building in 1998 – an eccentric and disheveled figure named William Gottlieb, who drove a battered station wagon and carried documents in a shopping bag – had a propensity to grab real estate and then to sit on it. He ultimately owned around 100 properties in the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea and the Lower East Side – a portfolio that was, at one point, valued at $ 1 billion. After his death in 1999, his family members fought for control of his real estate empire.
The Northern Dispensary, where Edgar Allan Poe was reportedly treated for a cold, was, however, unique among the holdings of William Gottlieb Real Estate. Deed restrictions dating from the early 19th century require that the building be used to serve the poor and infirm, thus ruling out conversion to high-end condos or rentals, for example.
As the building stood empty – windows cracked, paint peeling – Mr Gottlieb’s nephew, Neil Bender, who along with his wife, Marika, now controls William Gottlieb Real Estate, seemed to be following in his uncle’s footsteps, at least with this particular goods.
âPeople contacted us over the years,â said Corey Johnson, speaker for New York City Council, whose district includes the Northern Dispensary. “How is it that this magnificent building is unoccupied?” “
Then the Love of God entered the scene.
In 2019, the Benders attended one of their annual fundraising concerts. They started donating eggs and microgreens to the organization from their farm in Tivoli, NY When they learned that the association needed space, they offered the North dispensary.
âWe had the natural fit,â the Benders said in a statement.
Now they have agreed to make the building handicapped accessible and modernize it with a new HVAC system and new wiring. The floors and walls are in good condition, said Scott Henson, director of Henson Architecture, the company selected for the project. The fireplace mantels and other historic features of the 190-year-old federal-style structure will be preserved.
The plans must be presented to the local community council and the Commission for the Preservation of Monuments. God’s Love plans to move staff around the building early next year.
Her monthly rent of $ 5,800 is a fraction of what a building of this size would normally cost. This allows the association – which has an annual budget of $ 27 million, delivers food to all five boroughs and, despite its name, no religious affiliation – to devote more of its resources to people in the need.
âIt feels good to be in a place whose history was a place to heal the sick,â Ms. Pearl said. Although some office workers will be moving to the dispensary, meals will continue to be prepared and distributed from the SoHo site, about a dozen blocks south, which has a 10,000 square foot kitchen.
The fact that the building is in an area where AIDS was rampant and where God’s Love focused a lot of its efforts at the start – it’s interesting that the last tenant of the Northern Dispensary before it went vacant for 30 years, a clinic dental clinic, was closed in 1989 after refusing to care for a man with AIDS – is particularly poignant for some.
âBringing them to the heart of the West Village is really beautiful and meaningful,â said Mr Johnson, a 17-year-old HIV positive gay man. “They couldn’t find a more suitable space.”