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Aging Action Initiative Unlikely Collaboration Provides Solution for Marin’s Aging Population  By Joe O’Hehir
CEO, Whistlestop
Chair, Steering Committee, Aging Action Initiative

Several years ago, when Whistlestop set out to develop and build a new healthy aging center with affordable senior housing, little did we know that it would take a strategic collaboration with a multi-billion dollar rare-disease biotech company to make it happen.

In addressing the challenges of the SMART downtown location, Whistlestop embarked on a redevelopment plan for its existing property and site. The redevelopment plan proposed a rebuild of our current location at 930 Tamalpais Avenue (next to the Bettini Transit Center) to include the addition of senior affordable housing units combined with a new, state-of-the-art Active Aging Center. We partnered with Eden Housing, a notable nonprofit housing organization to develop, construct, and manage the housing component of the project. Whistlestop and Eden Housing submitted a formal application to San Rafael’s community development department for the redevelopment project in July 2015.

Unfortunately, our project plan was met with resistance, primarily from a vocal minority group of community members. City officials encouraged us to find a different location in downtown San Rafael for the project. Therefore, in February 2016, BioMarin, Whistlestop, and Eden Housing signed a memorandum of understanding to form a strategic collaboration to work together and develop a co-application for the 999 Third Street property which had been recently purchased by BioMarin.

The result of these two years of collaborative effort was the recent submission of a formal project application on October 5, 2018 for the 999 Third Street property. In the application, BioMarin is proposing to provide a section of the currently vacant lot, on the northwest corner of the property at Third Street and Brooks Street, for the development of a new 18,000 square-foot Whistlestop Healthy Aging Center and Eden Housing’s 67 units of affordable senior housing.

Why is this unlikely strategic collaboration working? Simply put, it’s about mutually beneficial goal alignment. Whistlestop and Eden Housing needed to find a more suitable location to build a modern healthy aging center combined with as many affordable senior housing units as we can build, given the growing community need. BioMarin wants to demonstrate that they are providing an important community benefit and that they are good corporate citizens to the city of San Rafael as they plan to expand and grow their downtown corporate campus.

The moral of this story is to be open minded about choosing collaborative partners. You never know who might be in a position to help your nonprofit organization achieve its mission!

 Aging Action Initiative Unlikely Collaboration Provides Solution for Marin’s Aging Population