Plans for LGBT Community Center Move Forward
The country’s third largest LGBT community was left without a center when the Seattle LGBT Community Center closed its doors in 2007. There has been talk, however, among non-profits, community organizers and Seattle’s LGBT Commission to once again lay the groundwork for the development of a center on Capitol Hill.
But where would it be housed? What would it look like? And most importantly, who would fund such a project? After all, the last community center closed its doors amid funding problems-among other things. Money talks and in this economy, the talking is so scarce that it could be confused as a whisper.
Louise Chernin, executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association, and others believe that an LGBT community center on Capitol Hill is not only possible, but could flourish under the right leadership and community support. Chernin along with city planners believe that the Sound Transit Broadway light rail station is that very site.
"Conversation about what would be located at the light rail station has been going on for over two years," said Chernin. "The Greater Seattle Business Association has had the discussion at our board level and came to the conclusion that an LGBT community center would be something we’d support. In fact, some of our board members have expressed interest in working on it."
Although no formal group has been formed to officially tackle the project, Chernin says an informal group of LGBT non-profit executive directors and community activists do have a vision of what a modern community or civic center would look like. She told EDGE that services that are not currently provided in the community-a senior citizen drop-in center, LGBT senior housing, and childcare-could find a home inside the space.
The obvious uses would include a community meeting space, a safe place for LGBT youth to meet, among other basic services that may be provided at other locations on the Hill-but apart from each other.
"We are one of the only minority groups in all of Seattle that does not have our own center," said Chernin. "Almost every service provided to the LGBT community is done through the community with very little help from the city or state. We identify with Capitol Hill. It is the right spot for such a place."
Chernin ready acknowledges that the center would come at a hefty price, but she thinks it is doable. "In order for the LGBT community center to be successful there would have to be anchor tenants that would be able to actually afford to pay the rent," she said. "Smaller groups that do not have enough money to pay for rent would be included because the larger organizations would make it a part of their mission to include them by providing resources or meeting space for them."
As the director of one of the nation’s largest LGBT business chambers of commerce, Chernin said she knows that there is interest to support a campaign to purchase the space-no anchor tenants have been identified.
The development of the property surrounding Broadway’s light rail station is enormous and ever changing. The city is hoping to work with Sound Transit to have the agency commit to selling its surplus properties at Broadway with "strings attached." Meaning, they get a say as to what actually goes into the buildings. These sorts of negotiations are what have made the possibility of an LGBT focused community center feasible.
"Through our work with the community on the future of these sites, it became clear that there is a strong interest in a community space focused on the history and culture of Capitol Hill being included in future development," Bryan Stevens of the Department of Planning and Development told EDGE. "Capitol Hill has a prominent role as a center for the LGBTQ and arts community. The Urban Design Framework highlights this as an important desire for future development and programming needs."
It is important to note the UDF is not a regulatory document. It establishes a shared programming and design vision for the Sound Transit-owned properties on Capitol Hill.
"We are at the point now where we are trying to broaden the conversation within the community about a community center," said Jeff Kinney, a GSBA member who volunteers with the organization’s scholarship fund who has taken a lead role in canvassing the community to drum up support for the project. "We are still very much in the planning stages. The idea doesn’t belong to me or the GSBA, it belongs to the community."
Kinney says that anyone interested in the LGBT community center is welcome to contact him directly at email@example.com.
"Inclusion of a community center of any kind in the redevelopment that will occur on the Sound Transit owned properties on Capitol Hill is not a done deal," added Vanessa Murdock, senior urban planner at the Department of Planning and Development.
The property disposition process for the Sound Transit owned properties is a Request For Qualifications/Request for Proposals process. Interested development teams will need to respond to the RFQ and meet certain requirements in order to be invited to submit a proposal, according to Murdock.
Developers and development teams responding to Sound Transit’s RFQ/RFP process for the disposition of property may choose to include a community center in their program. A draft Urban Design Framework was released in May for public comment.
"I received over 50 comments on the draft," noted Murdock. "A number of comments suggested that the framework did not adequately reflect the conversations taking place within the Capitol Hill community regarding the desire for a community cultural space within the redevelopment, open to all, that represents the diversity of the Capitol Hill neighborhood including the LGBTQ community."
A copy of the full UDF for the Capitol Hill light rail station sites can be found at seattle.gov.
One of the framework’s guiding principles is a cultural and community space that redevelops a local cultural facility that "represents the history and evolving culture of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, including its prominent role as a center for LGBTQ culture and the arts."
"A community/cultural gathering space within the redevelopment is strongly supported by the community, ideally located facing the Plaza," it notes. "This space could serve as a community meeting and gathering space, contain office spaces for non-profits and possible performance and/ or arts spaces. There is strong community interest around a facility open to all with a significant LGBTQ culture and services component. Additional work continues to be undertaken in the community to further refine the vision of the center and its identity as well as to continue to explore funding mechanisms and partnerships."
Chernin said she believes that there are those in the community who are up for the challenge and that, with the right direction and leadership, realizing a new LGBT community or civic center on Capitol Hill could move from the planning stages to the development stages. At any rate, she says, the community will, once again, have to take care of itself.
"We have to be our own champions," said Chernin. "This is an important conversation to have. We have an opportunity to come together as a community and work with the city-or whomever we have to-to make this happen."