With Tampa Bay’s growing reputation as a gay mecca in the Southeast, Metro Wellness and Community Centers is raising funds to transform a historic bungalow into an LGBT Welcome Center for the region.
The organization hopes to raise $30,000 for the project through an online campaign, with each dollar raised to be matched by an anonymous local donor. So far, more than $10,000 has been raised. Donations can be made online through Jan. 26.
The mixed-use building in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District will serve those visiting the area, as well as individuals who live locally, with a focus on providing a safe space for LGBT youth and a venue where the community can gather.
The welcome center will be the third of its kind in the country; the first two are located in Seattle and Miami, respectively. Metro Wellness hopes to eventually open a similar facility in Tampa.
“St. Petersburg and the entire Tampa Bay area is home to a heavy tourism industry from around the globe,” said Chris Rudisill, director of LGBT Community Center Services at Metro Wellness. “In addition, the city of St. Petersburg continues to grow as a gay destination with other events, like St. Pete Pride, the largest LGBT Pride festival in the state, taking place each summer. We hope to provide a resource to those hundreds of thousands of tourists that enjoy our beautiful weather, beaches and communities.”
In addition to offering travel information for visitors, the building will include an LGBT-focused café, which will serve Kahwa Coffee. There will also be space available to individuals and organizations for meetings, studying, socializing and community events.
“We wanted a very public kind of space that’s flexible in its use,” said Larry Biddle, director of center development.
Additionally, Metro Wellness wants to reach out to LGBT youth.
“Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT,” Biddle said. The hope is the Welcome Center will become one of the first places these youths turn to for assistance. “We want to connect people to the services they need.”
Metro Wellness’ background as a health service provider “is a tremendous advantage for us,” Biddle added.
In August, Metro Wellness relocated the bungalow, which was donated by GSC of St. Pete, LLC, from the Kenwood neighborhood to a vacant lot the organization owns a few blocks away at 2227 Central Ave. next to its thrift store.
“It made perfect sense to utilize this space and grow our offerings along Central Avenue,” said Rudisill.
He added, "The Grand Central District is at the heart of the LGBT community in St. Petersburg," making it the perfect location for such an undertaking. Tourists already flock to the area each June for the city’s annual Pride celebration, and that particular neighborhood isn’t far from Metro Wellness’ St. Petersburg location, as well as several gay bars and clubs.
The plan is for the Welcome Center to open by the 2014 Pride festival.
“We want to really push the project hard and have it ready in time,” Biddle said.
He said the house is structurally in good shape, but renovations are needed to turn it into an appropriate space for commercial and public use.
“There’s a difference between being a house and a public space,” he said.
The project will cost around $157,000 to get the facility ready to open its doors. Annual operating expenses will cost an estimated $240,000 each year.
In addition to the online campaign to raise funds, there are also various sponsorship and naming opportunities available for different areas of the Welcome Center. For information on naming opportunities, email Biddle.
Once the online campaign expires, donations can still be made directly to Metro Wellness.