ST. LOUIS – The LGBT Center of St. Louis held a town hall meeting, July 27, at the Pride St. Louis offices on Chouteau to update the community on its progress since going virtual in preparation for a move into a new building.
The Center closed its doors at 4337 Manchester in the Grove in June after the property was sold. The non-profit had first right of refusal to purchase the building it had leased since April 2011, but after an internal review, decided to temporarily close and search for a larger space.
This was the second town hall hosted by the Center to keep the community informed.
LGBT Center board president Dara Strickland opened the discussion by reminding the room that the Center’s greatest resource has always been its volunteers.
“Whenever there’s been a need you have always stepped up,” said Strickland.
Strickland said that the board is meeting twice a month post-Pride – one meeting is dedicated to operations, the second is focused on the building search.
“As much as we loved the Center on Manchester we simply outgrew it,” said Strickland. “We needed more space for meetings and programs and it simply wasn’t going to work long term.”
In September 2013, the Center was approached by an “angel donor” who gave a significant donation for the Center to use to find a new space.
The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has pledged the money to purchase a new building. To that end, the Center hired IFF late last year to identify properties that meet the organization’s needs, which include a conference room, offices, performance space, access to public transportation, etc.
“With the increased space of the Center it increases what the Center can do,” Strickland explained.
IFF identified a list of 10 properties within the city and the Center has looked at each of them. In May, Alderman Shane Cohn, a former Center board member, approached the board with a building in his district on South Grand. The 13,000 square foot space, a former auto dealership, is one of three or four properties on the Center’s short list.
“Nothing is 100-percent, but we are very enthusiastic about the South Grand property,” said Strickland.
The next steps are having buildings inspected and contracting an architect to draw up plans for meeting the Center’s needs.
“One of the things that has been on our radar from the very beginning is opening up the space to other non-profits,” said Strickland. “Everybody pays rent – I’d rather them pay the Center.”
“One of the things the Center should be providing is having more than one organization under the roof so we can all share information,” Strickland continued.
Another focus of the Center is sustainability. The present Center is the third incarnation in St. Louis – previous LGBT Centers in the Central West End (founded 1975) and South Grand (founded 1992) closed after a few years.
“We’ve studied our history. We don’t want to be 1975,” said Strickland. “We have no desire to reinvent the wheel – our community organizations do their job better than anyone; what we can do at the Center is provide the resources and information that are missing.”
“Original programming will not be a big part of what the Center does,” said Strickland. “We’re trying to reach the broadest amount of people possible and the best way to do that is to create an environment where people with a great idea can make that happen – cultivating that from the vision to an actual program.”
Strickland apologized for not providing more specifics about the building search, explaining to the room of volunteers and supporters that much like buying a house, “it’s only official when the ink is dry.” An announcement of the new building is forthcoming and Strickland asserted that the Center is still on track for re-opening in the new space on January 1, 2015.
In other news, The Center is currently seeking volunteers to help compile a detailed LGBT resource list for the St. Louis area.
“We have heard from a lot of people visiting St. Louis or who have just moved here who are looking for resources from what neighborhood should I live in, what schools are LGBT friendly, etc.,” offered Strickland.
The Center has been operating without an Executive Director since Interim E.D. Susan Nanny’s departure in December of last year. The Board has stepped up to handle day-to-day operations. According to Strickland, there are no plans to hire an Executive Director until they move into the new building.
The Center is currently creating a job description for a part time Center Coordinator to aid the board over the next six months.
Strickland opened up the floor for discussions – asking the room what they feel the Center should be doing between now and when it reopens. Suggestions included community partner outreach, increased visibility, streamlining communication and letting the community know the Center is still active.
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