"I love my freezer," Carlos says cheerfully. "Negative 45 degrees." Carlos' freezer is where donated plasma is stored. The plasma is the portion of blood that contains proteins and disease-fighting antibodies. It will be sent to one of three processing centers in Illinois, Switzerland or Germany where it will be made into pharmaceutical products. ZLB allows donors to give twice a week. Donors are paid about $25 to $40.
ZLB's spokespeople like to say that their donors come from all walks of life, which is true. But neighbors say the plasma center encourages drug addicts to trade blood for drugs. Dealers sometimes stand near the center waiting for addicts to walk out with their newfound cash. Some say dealers will front drugs to addicts waiting at the center at twice the usual street price knowing that they will have money in their pockets once they donate.
In the historic urban neighborhood surrounding ZLB, a lot of restoration has been going on lately. Old drug houses and by-the-hour hotels have been boarded up or torn down. Just west of Broadway, the Valentine area, with its stately old houses, would be among midtown's nicest neighborhoods if it weren't for the addicts that frequent ZLB.
Those addicts complicate Carlos' smoke breaks.
"I was out here one day, and a guy snatched my bag," Carlos says. "I beat his ass. We rolled right out there to the middle of Broadway." He points at the place with the lit end of his smoke.
Just then, four guys in baggy jeans and puffy coats approach the plasma center. They post up comfortably by the door.
The ZLB worker next to Carlos advises them, "You better move on. Security guard is right in that van." A white van blocks the entrance to the ZLB parking lot while a large truck is being loaded with biohazardous waste.
The men shuffle down to the end of the building. "We don't have a uniform on," Carlos says. "They don't know."
Just past the building, the men stop again, still aimless but off ZLB's property. Matt Martin sat on his porch drinking from a large green bottle of Perrier on a recent chilly afternoon. Martin lives on Washington, the street just west of Broadway on the 3700 block. Like many of the houses on his block, Martin's is a two-story shirtwaist with a limestone façade and a wide, sturdy porch. And like many residents in the Valentine and Broadway-Gillham neighborhoods, Martin says the plasma center depresses the area.
"It draws drug addicts, drug dealers, the unemployed, vagrants," he says. "Why not open a place like that closer to the hospitals in the community? It would make more sense to me to have a place like this closer to Truman or Kansas University. They could treat these people and offer more services. This is just ripping them off here and taking their body parts, is what it is."
Chris Jordan, co-president of the Valentine Neighborhood Association and a board member of the Broadway/Westport Council, says her two neighborhood groups banded together to start a security fund last year. They hired Westport Security guards to patrol Broadway on bikes for three months last summer, at a cost of $27,000. During those three months, residents said they felt safer on the streets.