By Lorraine Blasor
Special contributor to News is my Business
Just in time for its 50th anniversary in Puerto Rico in 2012, the Salvation Army is flexing its muscles with the move of its central headquarters to a Santurce building and the construction of a multiple-use community center in Guayama. Both projects represent a hefty $30 million investment in the island’s economy.
The bulk of the money, or $20 million, will go toward paying for the Guayama center, which will be the first Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Puerto Rico. Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s Founder Ray Kroc, left most of her multi-billion dollar estate to the Salvation Army with the proviso that the organization would build community centers where families could be exposed to other people, activities and the arts.
With these investments “we are saying that we are committed to Puerto Rico and will continue providing services here for many more years,” Major Eduardo Zuñiga told News is My Business. The initiatives also underscore the pressing need for social services provided by charitable organizations such as SA, which helps some 200,000 people yearly, a needy population that is growing 3 percent each year, he said.
The move of the central office for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Santurce will bring together several offices under a same roof: the organization’s main quarters, currently based in Puerta de Tierra, and other administrative offices and social services now located in two separate but nearby locations in Caparra. The central office oversees 11 centers island-wide and two in the USVI: one in St. Croix, the other in St. Thomas.
The new base is a seven-story building on the corner of San Jorge and Ponce de León at Stop 26 that once housed Micheo Music, purveyors of musical instruments. It was purchased for $2 million, lower than the cost of other properties the organization scouted in its quest for new quarters. Other locations were either too expensive, too small or too far away, Zuñiga said.
In tandem with the building’s complete renovation from the ground up, SA is also putting up a separate structure across the street on San Jorge. It is a two-story center that will house, on its first floor, a sports court and an industrial kitchen capable of preparing more than 2,000 meals per day.
Zuñiga said the total cost for the two buildings is $7.5 million with a delivery date of July 2012. Desarrollos Metropolitanos LLC is in charge of construction while Sierra Cardona Ferrer is handling the architectural design.
Sprawling Guayama complex
Meanwhile, in Guayama, Omega Costruction is already at work on the $20 million Kroc center, a multi-use facility being built on six acres of land that the Inter American University donated to SA several years ago.
The center will create about 25new jobs and house a swimming pool, day care center, gymnasium, and offices for social services. Delivery date is late December 2012, with the inauguration slated for March 2013, SA officials said.
An international faith-based organization with a presence in 124 countries, SA provides services such as shelter for homeless men, rehabilitation, food and financial assistance to needy families and those hard hit by the recession (including mortgage assistance) and many other services that have firmly established it as a leading charitable group in Puerto Rico.
Zuñiga said while the savings involved in transferring the Caparra operations to Santurce have not been quantified, “we will see savings in the long run.”
As for the future status of the Caparra buildings, SA might decide to sell them or sell one and set up a shelter in the other. SA’s yearly operational budget is $3.5 million of which $2 million comes from central office and the rest is raised through fundraising and donations in Puerto Rico and the USVI.
Mrs. Kroc died in Oct. 2003, leaving $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army, “the largest charitable gift ever given to the (Salvation) army and the largest single gift given to any charity at one time,” according to Wikipedia. Plans called for the construction of 31 Kroc centers nationwide and in Puerto Rico.