Moving The Center

LGBT community center secures space for two years at 13th and U

by Yusef Najafi
Published on June 15, 2010, 12:00pm | Comments

On Monday, June 21, The Center, the metro area's LGBT community center, will open its doors at a new location at 13th and U Streets NW, just a few blocks from where it has been enjoying its first street-level home at 14th and Swann Streets since January.

''It's street level, which is what people wanted. It's half a block from the Metro, which is what people wanted. It's still close to the same neighborhood [as our previous location], which is what people wanted,'' says David Mariner, The Center's executive director.

The Center's 14th Street home, which it will vacate on Saturday, previously housed Whitman-Walker Clinic. In 2008, JBG Properties purchased the property from WWC, and later offered the space to The Center at below-market rent. That arrangement, offered with a minimum occupancy of six months, was to last until JBG could find funding to demolish the building in order to build condominiums. The Center will remain open at 1810 14th St. NW through Friday, June 18.

The Center's new home is also owned by JBG Properties, and the new lease guarantees occupancy for at least two years.

Adapting the new venue for The Center's needs, Mariner says, may be tricky, though. Unlike the previous location, which included separate offices and meeting areas, the new location employs an open floor plan.

''We actually have a volunteer architect who's looking at how we're going to lay out the space,'' Mariner says. ''The idea is that it's one big open workspace for both the Cyber Center and the colleague organizations and me.

''Rather than having offices for the colleague organizations like we do here, we have work stations. So it allows us to pack a lot of folks in. We're going to be here for two years, so I'm hoping to design it in such a way that we give everybody most of what they want, even with having less space to work with.''

The colleague organizations sharing space with the Center on 14th Street currently are Bet Mishpachah, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC, aka the chamber), the Washington Blade, the DC Community AIDS Network, Helping our Brothers and Sisters, and the Latino GLBT History Project.

"We expect most of the organizations to come along with us," says Mariner, adding that only that DC Community AIDS Network has confirmed that it won't be relocating with The Center.

Despite the challenges of the floor plan and increasing rent, Mariner is simply relieved to have found a space for The Center.

''Again we have a generous offer from JBG that is below-market rent,'' he says, declining the list the amount. ''They've been very kind to us.''

The Center has tentative plans for a community open-house event at the new space, 1318 U St. NW, in late July.

''I'm aware that we're going into a much smaller space. The average community center has 9,000-plus square feet, and we're going to have a lot less than that,'' Mariner says. ''It just means that we can't do as many of the things we want to do. And I think everyone has seen from [the 14th Street] space that there's a need for a community center.

''There's a purpose, there's a vision and I believe that we will keep moving forward towards that goal.''

For more information about The Center, or for information about volunteering to help with the June 19 move, call 202-682-2245, e-mail or visit dccenter.org.