May 17, 2010 — This began as the story of a co-op board that had found a new kind of revenue-raising amenity. Along the way, it became the larger story of how co-ops and condos can brand and market themselves. In January 2010, the Seward Park cooperative on Manhattan's Lower East Side became New York City's first to provide on-site "car sharing" — hourly car rentals — in a deal with Hertz that gives residents discounted rates and provides financial sponsorship for the co-op's upcoming 50th anniversary.
It's a blueprint for how other co-op and condo boards can pursue corporate partnerships — raising their buildings' profiles and thus the value of their apartments.
Seward Park board president Michael Tumminia, 40, a former Price Waterhouse Coopers senior manager and now owner of the small-business management and financial-consulting firm 212 Partners, was elected president in June 2009. One of his main initiatives, he says, "was to raise the profile of the Seward Park co-op," a complex of four balconied towers that houses over 4,000 residents in 1,728 apartments. "It's my business-development background," he explains. "I'm actively trying to create business opportunities that benefit the co-op," where he and his wife, corporate recruiter Jennifer Salzman, bought an apartment in 2004.
To that end, the board is doing a $2.5 million Local Law 11/98 fix-up, as well as planting new trees, investigating its air rights with an eye toward additional construction, and considering installing electric-car charging stations. On the less physically visible side, it's adding amenities and technology that include a relaunched website and, on a trial basis, the internal web-network application MyBuilding.org.
It was the MyBuilding connection, Tumminia says, that led to the car-sharing innovation. "The CEO of MyBuilding.org introduced me to Laura Poznanski, a market-development specialist at Connect by Hertz" — the car-sharing arm of the venerable Hertz rent-a-car corporation. The CEO also provided contact information for the local marketing manager for rival Zipcar, but, Tumminia says, that company did not work out.
In any event, Tumminia says, "Connect by Hertz has been a great corporate partner." And that's the crux: Seward Park views Hertz not simply as a vendor, but as a partner working toward mutually beneficial ends — ones that all begin with a grey Toyota Prius hybrid and a red Daimler Smart mini-car.
How It Works
The pair of hourly rental cars occupy two spaces at one of Seward Park's outdoor parking lots. (The complex has about 400 indoor and outdoor spaces, and a waiting list of about 500 names, Tumminia says.) Residents and others sign up online to become a Connect by Hertz member. This gives them a key card allowing them to use any Connect by Hertz vehicle.
"You take your card, and technology in the car opens the door with it if you have a reservation," Tumminia describes. Keys are inside, as are a global positioning system (GPS) device and a gasoline card. "Gas is included in the cost of the rental, depending on the miles you drive," he says.
Because of its size, Seward Park was able to negotiate with Hertz. "They created a special promotional code so that when Seward Park residents sign up, they get certain discounts that non-Seward Park residents wouldn't get. It allows a person to rent a car for under $15 for a couple of hours, gas and insurance included. We also got an extra driving credit," he says, referring to the company's customer-incentive program. As well, Tumminia notes, "We wanted to make sure we had environmentally friendly cars on our property, so we dictated to a degree that we wanted a Prius and a Smart car."
The board also negotiated an inexpensive and easy-to-implement but potentially far-reaching extra. "We wanted a press release from Hertz," says Tumminia. "A major corporation is more likely to get press coverage than a co-op in Manhattan would. They wrote it, we had the opportunity to review it and put in our two cents, and they put it on the wire." It got picked up by, among other places, CNNMoney.com.
Driving a Sponsorship
Then there's the sponsorship deal. "Seward Park turns 50 years old this year," dating from when the first residents moved in, 1960. (Construction was completed in 1959.) "We're going to have a series of events to commemorate. And part of our deal with Connect by Hertz is they would be a sponsor. The amount of the contribution depends on utilization of the vehicles."
Related to this, he says, the company "has done promotional events in every one of our lobbies, and sponsored a 'green day,' which was a shareholder meeting to talk about all the green initiatives we've undertaken. They provided things like refreshments."
So far, he says, the car-sharing program has been successful. The co-op hasn't made "a windfall," Tumminia reports, "but it's been in the thousands of dollars" which goes into the operating fund and "allows us to defray some of the costs of the anniversary celebration."
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