LGBT Welcome Center near goal’s halfway point, still needs volunteers

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg – With $80,000 raised so far, the new LGBT Welcome Center is about halfway to its financial goal.

The former Grand Central District home was relocated last year to its current address next to the Metro Wellness Thrift Shop on Central Avenue—and a lot has changed since its relocation.

“We’ve finished the exterior painting and one of the first things we did was take off the enclosure around the front porch,” explained Larry Biddle, the LGBT Welcome Center director. “We had a volunteer group remove the enclosure and paint some of it.”

And that’s not all that volunteers have accomplished.

The structure, which now has electricity and plumbing, has fresh coats of paint on the interior walls and there are plans to sand and refinish the original, wood floors.

“They’re just beautiful,” Biddle said. “We’re trying to keep as much of the original structure as possible. It’s a historic home.”

Several groups, organizations and individuals have stepped up to help the new project succeed. Balance Tampa Bay, an LGBT and allied volunteer group, spent a Saturday painting the interior in May and donated $7,000. The Kenwood Neighborhood Association has wielded paintbrushes and donated funds as well. And the Florida Blue Foundation has given $5,000 while Edward White Hospital has pledged $20,000 to the project.

While those donations are appreciated and extremely helpful, Biddle said he’s most surprised by the number of individuals who are donating time and money to the effort. Checks of all sizes have rolled in and there has been extreme interest in “naming” the different rooms of the structure.

“I took the total amount of money we need ($170,000 total) and divided it by the square footage of the house,” Biddle explained.

Now, each room is available for sponsors. The front porch, the conference room, a reading room and the restroom have all been “purchased.” The largest donation in that program was for the front porch, which was $14,000.

The LGBT Welcome Center will serve as a catch-all destination hub for LGBT visitors, but will also serve as a place for LGBT youth and the surrounding community to gather for special events, concerts and presentations.

While the original goal was to open the doors before St. Pete Pride, the last weekend of June, it appears as if the center will now open in July, according to Biddle.
“We’re aiming for a ribbon cutting on July 10, and everyone is invited,” said Biddle. “But we need to get a certain amount of money in before June 1 if we’re going to keep that celebration date. So things are still in flux.”

A VIP reception for donors is set in stone, however, for Thursday, June 26, the weekend before Pride. The invitation-only celebration is a way to thank those who have donated at a certain level to ensure the center’s success.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding the new Welcome Center, which would only be the third of its kind in the country. Even St. Petersburg’s mayor, Rick Kriseman, has expressed support and excitement for the grand opening.

“I think we’re working toward a lot of improvements in the city [with regard to LGBTs],” the mayor told Watermark in a recent interview. “There’s the LGBT Welcome Center, and that’s a big deal. We need that open and functioning.”

And before it can be open, there is still a lot to do.

Biddle said that landscaping is a big priority and fencing will need to comply with codes. The restroom is also still under construction and needs to meet the Americans with Disability Act standards.

“We’ve talked to a general contractor and we’re in the process of vetting permits to do the construction work that needs to be done with regards to air conditioning, etc.,” Biddle said. “We’ve probably done about 30% of the renovation so far. This house is in good condition.”

While some of the major renovations must be done by contractors, there are still ample opportunities to put some sweat equity into the community project.

“We need to get the insulation out of the attic and put in new insulation by blowing in foam that goes below the roof line,” Biddle said. “We have screens that have to be repainted and hung and we have a major piece of construction work to be done where there used to be a fireplace.”

When the building was moved from a block down Central, the chimney and fireplace did not come with it. Now, a gaping hole, covered by plywood, marks the place where the brick chimney once stood.

“If we could find a group of construction volunteers, that would be truly wonderful right now,” Biddle said. “What we’ve realized is that this whole idea of a safe place for youth has piqued interest and enthusiasm about becoming involved financially and physically. That mission has a lot of appeal. That could be the reason why out of our 40 major donors so far—that is, donating $500 or more—only five are businesses or corporations. The rest are generous individuals.”

To help with the LGBT Welcome Center, or to take a tour to learn more about the project, contact Biddle at LarryjBiddle@me.com or 813-417-1225.

For more details on the LGBT Welcome Center, visit LGBTWelcomeCenter.com.

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