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November 30, 2012

Cleveland LGBT Center will stay put

Search for better space leads back to present location

Cleveland--After examining the issue for a year, the Cleveland LGBT Center has decided that its next move is to stay put.

Instead of moving to a new facility, they are going to ensure that the current one at 6600 Detroit Avenue can better meet the needs of its clientele.

“When someone enters the center currently, they are not welcomed at the top of the stairs,” said executive director Phyllis Harris after a facilities committee meeting on November 27. “We’re going to update it and staff it with volunteers and make it more welcoming.”

A town hall meeting in January was complemented by a survey available on the center’s website, asking about what people want to see in terms of the organization’s location.

The most noted items were that it should be street level, have good parking, be wheelchair-accessible and in an easily-reached area. In addition, the vast majority said it should be in the city of Cleveland proper, and could be smaller than the current location.

However, at the January 24 meeting, board member Bryan Bowser told attendees that it could not cost more than the current space, which is about $3 per square foot. Street-level space in the area is four to five times as much.

At the meeting, Bowser said that there was no set deadline for the five-person site committee to return a recommendation. One of the problems it had as of the meeting was that none of the sites they looked at were suitable for their purposes.

One of the options, the one taken, was to stay in the current location but make better use of it, either by using less of the basement space currently occupied by the center, or simply remodeling.

One issue is that access to the basement space is only by the main staircase, or by an elevator in the apartment lobby next door.

“Right now when you get to the center, there are a number of keys you need to get to the elevator. One of the things I think we’re able to address, if we have someone at the top of the stairs to welcome them, they can tell them they need to use the elevator,” Harris said. “Now, when you come in, if you see the stairs and decide you can’t make the stairs, you leave out.”

As part of a work-around, the center has meeting space in the ground-level Gordon Square Atrium, which houses a number of service organizations. The center plans to renovate it for an easier-to-access site for the senior drop-in program and other group meetings.

“That space was originally a space used for our youth outreach programming. It’s been available, from what I understand, since 2007 or 2008,” she noted. “It’s not a huge space, but it’s definitely at street level. You don’t have to go down any stairs.”

The center also has access to a conference room, available to them as tenants of the Gordon Square building.

“We are exploring options for our lower-level space, including the layout, kitchen, meeting rooms, and offices,” said board president Bob Sferra in a release. “We are grateful to our allies at Key Bank who have put aside some gently used, but matching, office furniture.”

“We need new flooring, new carpets, improved lighting, efficient storage--and several cans of paint,” he continued.

Another thing that will be done is a remodel of the kitchen, Harris added. “We’re going to update our kitchen. I’m really excited about that. We get great use out of that little space now.”

The center will be allying itself with Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, which will likely bring more programming for LGBT seniors, so access to the elevator and the ground-level space will be paramount.

“We’re just going to be thinking more broadly than we have before,” Harris said. “I didn’t know for a couple of months that [the ground level office] was space we actually rented.”

The center has had six addresses since it began in 1975 as the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation. After a Gay Hotline was operated out of an office near West 25th and Clark, the first Gay Community Center opened in May, 1977 on the third floor of the Coventryard building at Coventry and Euclid Heights Blvd. Eight months later, a fire destroyed the building. GEAR reopened in late 1978 downtown, then moved to West 14th and Auburn in Tremont two years later, then to a house near Fulton and Lorain in1982. The name was changed for a 1988 move to the Man’s World building at West 29th and Detroit, and the center moved to its current location in May, 2000.

Brian DeWitt contributed to this report.

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