Reproductive Center Plans Move

By Rosalind Guy

SHORT TRIP: The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health is preparing to move a few blocks away to a three-parcel building in back of the India Palace restaurant along Poplar Avenue. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy

The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, which primarily performs abortions, is moving - and most likely so will its permanent protestors - later this year to a new building five blocks away from its current location at the corner of Poplar Avenue and McNeil Street.

The center, which is currently housed in a two-story, 4,145-square-foot Victorian home at 1462 Poplar Ave. in the Evergreen/Vollintine historic district, is expected to move by the fall into its new home at 1724, 1726 and 1734 Poplar. And the move, which is less than a mile away, already has cost the center more than $50,000.

The price tag is so high, center director Mary Frank said, because clinic officials had to apply for a Certificate of Need from the state even though they are only moving a short distance away and don't plan to expand their services, much.

"The fee for us, for the state, is only $3,000," Frank said. "But in the process you have to hire a lawyer to put this all together and represent you at the hearing; we had to hire an architect because you have to submit drawings; we had to hire a general contractor because you have to submit a sort of a general idea of how much it's going to cost; then you also have to get a survey; and you have to get an inspection of the building."

Home sweet home

It's also necessary to have an address, which meant the out-of-town sellers, John and Gwendolyn Gardner, had to take the building off the market while the center has been going through the process.

The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health Inc. recently bought the buildings along Poplar from the Gardners for $750,000.

The hearing for the center was held in January and the CON was granted.

"We went to Nashville and we had our hearing and it took all of seven minutes for them to approve it," Frank said.

Although the process allows for people from the community to protest the move, no one did. And that, Frank said, surprised her.

"You would have thought with an abortion clinic we might have gotten somebody calling and complaining and we heard nothing," she said.

Although certified as an ambulatory surgical treatment center, Frank said, the center provides much more than abortions.

"We do Well-Woman exams, and that includes pap smears, pelvic exams and we do STI (sexually-transmitted infections, which formerly were referred to as sexually-transmitted diseases) testing and HIV testing," Frank said. "We also do lots of outreach and education.

"We partner with lots of organizations to try to help people understand how to prevent unwanted pregnancies or unplanned pregnancies, because we're really about trying to help prevent them."

Open for business

The new property includes a nearly 3,600-square-foot, one-story commercial building and a nearly 3,200-square-foot, one-story medical office, both built in 1950.

Frank said the center plans to renovate the three-parcel property near the India Palace restaurant, but not much. Part of the facility formerly was a doctor's office and another part formerly was a Baptist Rehabilitation Clinic, but it has been vacant for a couple of years.

Renovations will include cosmetic work to combine all three spaces and will require knocking down some walls and adding connecting doors.

Frank said they decided to move the facility into the new location because it's in a commercial neighborhood. The center has been housed, since its inception nearly 35 years ago, in a residential community.

Frank, who's been with the center for two years, said she's been working on the move just as long.

"We have loved living in the community, the Evergreen community has been very supportive of us and our neighbors have always been very supportive," Frank said. "We do have regular protestors who stand out on the street in front of our clinic; even though they obviously don't support what we do, we have a cordial relationship with them.

"They are kind and respectful to our patients. Ultimately, though, we think it will be a good thing to move into a more commercial area."

When the clinic moves into its new facility, the old one will be put on the market. It most likely won't be for sale until 2009.

To make up for the financial strain of the move, the nonprofit center probably will hold some type of funding drive in the near future, though Frank said she's unsure when.

"It's still a significant amount of money ($50,000) to outlay on the chance that you'll get shot down," she said. "And even though we have it, we will ultimately end up doing some type of capital campaign drive at some point throughout this process. We haven't quite figured out how we're going to do that."

At the new facility, in addition to offering the current services, the center also will reach out to men. It will offer reproductive services such as HIV testing and STI testing. The center also will reach out to the broader community including gay/lesbian, transgender and bisexual people.

"We're founded on feminist principles, we're founded on principles about nondiscrimination," Frank said, adding that all services to all people are provided at a low cost and sometimes during the evening hours, when an evening clinic is held.

Although the center is a nonprofit organization, it is a fee-for-service clinic.