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LGBT center finds its 'heart'

by Matthew S. Bajko

Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe holds oversize scissors<br>and state Senator Scott Wiener holds the ribbon as people cheer at the April 9<br>reopening of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe holds oversize scissors
and state Senator Scott Wiener holds the ribbon as people cheer at the April 9
reopening of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Dressed in yellow slacks and a purple bow tie, Gregory Marks was as colorfully attired as the new interior spaces of the renovated San Francisco LGBT Community Center, which debuted a floor-to-ceiling makeover Sunday as it celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Marks, 62, a founder of the upper Market Street facility, served on the original capital committee formed to raise the money to build it. He was among the several hundred people who attended the April 9 ribbon-cutting and rededication ceremony, after which the public got its first look at the $10.3 million renovation.

"For a long time the center was just a rental space," said Marks, a gay man who volunteered at the center in recent years after losing his job and now works for a local health care foundation. "Now, I feel the heart of the center is here."

Providing the new pulse for the building are three nonprofits that now have their own dedicated spaces in the building. As the Bay Area Reporter has previously noted, Bay Area Legal Aid's San Francisco regional office is now ensconced on the entire third floor of the center and has also rented the former ceremonial room on the fourth floor for additional meeting room space.

The Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center on Monday opened its new LGBT primary care clinic on the fourth floor where a warren of small offices rented by local nonprofits had been. (See story, page 1.)

Also on the fourth floor is AGUILAS, short for Assembly of United Gays Impacting Latinos toward Self-Empowerment, which has been a tenant in the building for years. Eduardo Morales, Ph.D., AGUILAS' executive director, told the B.A.R. that the reduced rent his agency is paying to be in the center has allowed it to continue to operate in the city.

"We looked at other places to go and the cost was prohibitive," said Morales, who helped cut the ribbon Sunday.

Except for a full-time receptionist, AGUILAS' other 11 employees, including Morales, are all part-time. Morales, who also works as a distinguished professor and associate director of the Clinical Ph.D. Program at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco, is looking for new revenue sources to expand his agency's programming.

He noted that he has been able to hire staffers who speak Portuguese in order to provide services to gay Brazilians living in the Bay Area. And he and his staff are thrilled with their new offices in the building, which they moved into in late fall.

"It's nice. We get a lot of light, and since we are a small program, it works for us," said Morales. "If we do expand, we will have to figure out where to get more space."

Not opened Sunday as scheduled was the new office for Theresa Sparks, Mayor Ed Lee's senior adviser for transgender initiatives. The city leased a ground-floor space in the center that fronts Market Street for Sparks and her two staff members, but they have yet to move in. Sparks told the B.A.R. she now plans to occupy the space by the end of the month.

To many, the repurposed layout of the building makes better use of the center's 35,000 square feet. New meeting room spaces were built on the second floor, and the entrance and lobby areas were reconfigured to make them more inviting.

"It looks 100 percent better. It is a whole new space," said Veronika Fimbres, 64, a transgender woman who was a founder of the building. "It just wasn't a well-used space."

The four tenants are expected to provide $500,000 in rental revenue to the center that will cover its operating costs, allowing it for the first time to be financially sustainable. Thus, center officials will be able to use all of the donations they receive for programs and new initiatives.

"The transformation on the outside is nothing like the transformation on the inside," said Rafael Mandelman, a gay attorney who in June will be stepping down as president of the LGBT center's board.

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