P&S Journal: Winter 1995, Vol.15, No.1
Columbia-Presbyterian and Its Community: A Changing Relationship
New Spaces for New Purposes
If expansion of the Medical Center seems to have little to do with community outreach, it is important to look again, especially at plans for the Audubon Park. As Dr. William Polf, deputy vice president for external relations and strategic programs, explains, the creation of the Audubon complex not only marks the first extension of the Medical Center east of Broadway, but also symbolizes a major departure from the Medical Center's tradition of building for and unto itself.
The first building in this complex, the Audubon Business and Technology Center, will be completed early this year. Growing out of the old Audubon Ballroom with its historical facade restored, the Business and Technology Center/Audubon Ballroom building is a dramatic harbinger of change. The Audubon Business Center will provide space for biotechnology businesses and commercial laboratories to locate proximate to the Medical Center. The restored Audubon Ballroom, adjacent to the Business and Technology Center, will include, in addition to a memorial to Malcolm X, a community mental health clinic run by the city.
The second research building-the first academic building in Audubon Park-is the Center for Disease Prevention, slated for completion in 1997. The Audubon Park plans also include renovation of Mitchel Square Park, the triangle of land that divides Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue north of the Audubon Ballroom.
In addition to the biotech companies located in the commercial building, space in several buildings will be available for retail store operations, which will serve both Medical Center personnel and residents of the greater community. The Business and Technology Center and the Audubon Ballroom will, for example, include a bank, a bookstore, and a cafe with outdoor seating.
Mitch Gipson, executive director of the Audubon Park, recalls early controversy about Columbia's plans for the Audubon Ballroom when Columbia was criticized for encroaching on the community whenever it expanded. In this case, however, the restoration of the Audubon facade, a project of the city, is a symbolic gesture. "We are not wiping out the past but using it to contribute to the community."
When completed, the Audubon Park will create approximately 2,500 new jobs, and programs being put in place will enhance the ability of local residents to take advantage of those jobs. For example, a program will provide stipends to area residents who train to become clinical laboratory technicians. The stipends will support the trainees during the unsalaried internship required for certification. Similar programs that combine incentives for job training with improved opportunities for education also are planned.
Viewed as a whole, planning for the research park exemplifies the new openness and outward turning of the Medical Center. The Commerce Department has called the development of the park a model of private sector projects through not-for-profit corporations that promote high-growth, globally competitive businesses in economically distressed areas.