Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

SF LGBT center readies for remodel

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

The San Francisco LGBT Community Center is expected to undergo a substantial interior remodel, while the exterior is planned to be repainted. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Officials with San Francisco's LGBT Community Center are revealing more details about the facility's planned renovation as construction is expected to commence in March.

In interviews with the Bay Area Reporter over the last week, center leaders disclosed that much of the interior of the modern portion of the building will be overhauled to provide new offices for a variety of nonprofit agencies, including a non-LGBT specific provider of legal services.

Center officials would not say which agency it is in talks with since a lease has yet to be signed. The negotiations are centered on reconfiguring the entire third floor, roughly 10,000 square feet of space, into new offices for the legal services nonprofit.

"They serve the LGBT community," said Rebecca Rolfe, the center's executive director. "We are trying to be responsive to what kind of needs people have and come to the building looking for and building out the best possible mix of services in the building."

Rolfe said center staff often field requests from LGBT people looking for legal assistance with employment, violence, discrimination, and a wide range of civil service issues.

"Legal services are one of the greatest needs people who come to the center are looking for," she said.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, a former co-chair of the center's board, told the B.A.R. he isn't concerned about seeing a non-LGBT specific agency move into the center. His main concern, he said, is seeing the center be fiscally solvent.

Having multiple tenants paying long-term leases provides the center with a predictable revenue stream, he noted.

"The revamped physical space will allow for more nonprofit services to be provided in the center. That is a positive thing for the LGBT community," said Wiener. "I know they are trying to strike a balance. To me, that is the number one goal."

In September the B.A.R. first reported on the planned renovation of the 35,000 square foot building, comprised of a modern structure attached to the Fallon Building, a Queen Anne-style Victorian built in 1900 at the corner site, where Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersect.

The remodel is expected to cost roughly $6.5 million, the bulk of which is coming from the New Markets Tax Credit program. The Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development provided $650,000 for the design phase, with an additional estimate of $580,000 for assistance in securing the needed financing.

Equity Community Builders, a San Francisco architectural firm whose projects have included the new A.C.T. Strand Theater on Market Street, the SFJazz center, and the Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker in Sausalito, was selected to work on the center's interior remodel.

When the center opened in 2002, the design won praise from architectural critics. But community members roundly criticized the layout and called many of the spaces inadequate. In recent years, center officials redesigned the entrance area and relocated the cyber center to the ground floor to help activate the space.

It had been located on the building's third floor, which has housed various meeting rooms local groups could rent. Due to the planned renovation of the building, the center ceased renting out the rooms to outside groups as of January.

 

Major changes planned

Major changes are also planned for the center's fourth floor. Where a warren of small offices is now will be new medical offices for the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center.

"We've had a long-standing relationship with the SF LGBT center and have explored various ways to deepen our partnership. We are excited about their building renovation efforts and have plans to be a tenant there," API Wellness Center CEO Lance Toma wrote in an email to the B.A.R. "While our primary clinic site will remain on Polk Street, we see the center as an ideal location to be able to extend our services to more LGBT people who need the kind of services we provide."

New offices on the fourth floor will be built for AGUILAS, short for Assembly of United Gays Impacting Latinos toward Self-Empowerment, which currently leases space on the third floor of the center. The agency's new suite of offices will be constructed by enclosing the space between the third and fourth floors that is now an open atrium.

The ceremonial room on the fourth floor will be turned into new office space. The center is in talks to lease it to an agency that runs a health and wellness program for the transgender community, said Rolfe.

As for the large meeting space on the second floor, known as the Rainbow Room, it will be expanded in size. A wall fronting the Market Street facade will be removed so the room extends up to the windows overlooking the street.

The kitchen attached to the space on the building's Waller Street side will be removed in place for two meeting rooms. The atrium between the first and second floors will be closed in and turned into a meeting room.

And the staircase leading from the first floor up to the Rainbow Room will be torn out. In its place on the first floor will be a new meeting room that will also include the area that now houses the center's cyber center.

The computers will be housed in a new space running the length of the new meeting room along the building's Waller Street side. Center officials are in talks with 10 donors who secured naming rights to interior spaces now slated to be demolished about honoring their contributions elsewhere in the building.

The center is also looking to bring back a cafe to the first floor space fronting Market Street. It posted "for lease" signs in November but has yet to enter into lease talks with any business.

"If people have suggestions or thoughts, we would love to hear them," said Rolfe. "We would love to find an LGBT business, but it is not a requirement."

As for the building's facade, there will be no structural changes but the windows are to be repaired and cleaned. Center officials are in discussions about selecting a new color scheme for the exterior. Much of the modern structure is painted red.

The historic Victorian structure currently sports five different hues that debuted in 2008. The base is a soft silver with four accent colors that include two different shades of a gray-blue, one shade of a gray-green, and a deep purple.

"We are going to repaint the exterior," said Rolfe, adding that the Victorian "will stay multi-colored."

The center's staff is working to finalize the financing for the project, with the board expected to sign off on the plans at its February 9 meeting. Construction would then begin in March and wrap up by September, center officials said.

"We expect construction would start soon. I think we are a month or two behind what we hoped to be," said Rafael Mandelman, president of the center's board of directors. "In general terms, the board has signed off on the remodel."

While AGUILAS is remaining in the building, LGBT senior services provider Openhouse is expected to vacate its office space in the center by the end of February, when its lease expires.

Openhouse is planning to relocate in September into new office spaces at 65 Laguna in the ground floor of a new senior housing facility aimed at low-income LGBT seniors. As the B.A.R. reported last week, its offices will be named the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center after the paper's founding publisher.

"We will need to be looking for some space before we move to the new building. It is something we had prepared for," said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn.

As for the center's staff and programs during the construction work, several custodial employees will be laid off on a temporary basis. Rolfe said they would all be offered to return to their jobs when the work is complete.

Most of the center's staff will remain working out of the building during the remodel, and nearly all of its programs will continue to be offered on site, said Rolfe.

"We may need to rent some larger rooms for events like our career fairs," she said.

Reaction to the changes has been muted so far, said center officials, with most people unaware of the proposed redesign.

"A lot of people are surprised to find the building not open at night for meetings," said Mandelman. "People who know it is going on are pretty invariably positive. I think the proposal makes sense to people."

The center sent out an email last Wednesday, January 20 that described the project in general terms.

It noted that the rebuild would "triple the amount of affordable nonprofit office space available" and "create a long-term sustainability by designing a more efficient floor plan that allows our building to pay for itself and build a capital reserve fund to support future building needs."

Once the building is renovated, center officials contend they will be able "to invest more financial resources toward innovating programs and increasing social, cultural, and recreational offerings for all of us."

Most people understand that the changes are needed to ensure the center is financially self-sustaining, said Mandelman.

"I think people are aware of the need for nonprofit office space, particularly if those nonprofits will be serving needs in our community. That is a good thing," he said.

 

 

 

 






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