Bay Area Reporter - December 11, 1997


by Brenda Barnette

The dream of a vibrant Community Center serving San Francisco's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities has eluded our city since Supervisor Harvey Milk proclaimed it a top priority shortly before his assassination.

Today, San Francisco stands on the verge of fulfilling Harvey Milk's dream. With extraordinary support from Mayor Willie Brown, the Board of Supervisors, city departments, and our community itself, we are finally about to create the kind of Community Center that already exists in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, New York, and hundreds of cities large and small across the United States.

In light of today's disagreement about the fate of a 103-year-old structure on the site of our future Community Center, it is important to keep sight of our mission: to plan, build, and open a safe, affordable and accessible facility that will foster the pride, health, identity, and sense of purpose of our diverse community.

Our Community Center will be a resource to revitalize and rebuild our community in the face of homophobia, racism, transphobia, and our devastating losses from HIV/AIDS. It will provide a place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of gender, race, income, HIV status, age, or any other status. It will provide a link to individuals with community-based services and programs, while making space for existing and new community organizations.

New York's Gay Community Center offers an exciting model for San Francisco. On a recent evening there, 39 different groups and organizations were meeting during a five-hour period! They included a youth group, an acting class, bisexual adult children of alcoholics, Dyke Marshall Training, married lesbians, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and a drop-in group for HIV-positive men. Imagine the possibilities!

As the Community Center's Board of Directors planned our facility, we convened 15 different community focus groups to find out what folks wanted, needed, and expected in their new center. We determined a need for about 85,000 square feet -- more than twice the original size of New York's Community Center -- to accommodate everyone's wishes!

We then proceeded to scale back the building's size, trying to get the most we could within our original budget. We reduced the space first from 85,000 square feet to about 65,000, then to 41,000.

Our intention was to renovate the Victorian and construct a new building next to it. After consultation with several contractors and others, we budgeted $650,000 to rehab the Victorian.

We then conducted a design competition, requiring competitors to include the Victorian in order to have their design considered by the Community Center Project.

After the architects were chosen in April, they conducted a feasibility study to determine more precisely the costs of rehabilitating the Victorian. Structural engineers, soil scientists, preservationists, and others refined the numbers. We were surprised to learn that the actual cost of renovation would not be $650,000, but closer to $2.6 million!

Even at this higher cost, the Victorian would be less safe than a new building. It would require us to build a smaller Community Center and would also present long-term maintenance difficulties.

After intensive deliberation in which we considered all our options, the board voted to construct a new facility on this site rather than renovate the old one.

Our decision was not an easy one. However, we are committed to building a safe, affordable, accessible building. The Victorian presents serious challenges to all three of those goals.

During the time we planned to rehab the Victorian, not one of the newfound "Friends of 1800 Market" who now criticize our decision made a serious financial contribution to our efforts to keep the Victorian.

Now they are threatening this project with lawsuits, ballot measures, intimidation of donors, name-calling, and other non-constructive methods.

They say they support the Center, but want us to keep the Victorian. It is time for them to stop their narrow-minded intimidation and to be a part of a realistic solution.

copyright 1997

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