Saturday, April 6, 2013 | 2 a.m.
After two decades of providing programs and services for the LGBTQ community of Las Vegas, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada finally has a home all its own.
The nonprofit organization unveils its downtown location, the Robert L. Forbuss building at 401 S. Maryland Parkway, today after initially opening the doors of the new facility last month. (LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer and/or Questioning.)
“Having this sort of presence in the community, I think, will make our business known to more people who haven’t been able to access services through the center before,” said Mel Goodwin, program director at the center, which served more than 30,000 Las Vegas residents in 2012.
Goodwin, one of the center's former clients, is testament to the fact that such a space and its services matter.
“I needed support that my family wasn’t able to provide me around coming out,” said Goodwin, who later became a volunteer. “Seeing what kind of a difference caring people like Candice and my co-worker Joshua can make in someone’s life changed my career path, my life outlook, my understanding of community,” Goodwin said, referring to Executive Director Candice Nichols and HIV Prevention Director Joshua Montgomery.
The center once occupied office space and strip mall storefronts, including the past 10 years at Commercial Center off Sahara Avenue, near Maryland Parkway.
The $4 million project was aided in part by donations from prominent local corporations, organizations and residents, including MGM Resorts International, Steve and Andrea Wynn and Zuffa LLC, which owns and operates the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“Until now, we’ve never occupied a space that has adequately or legitimately served the needs of the center or the community,” Goodwin said. The organization was maxed out for meeting space before the move and had to turn new groups away.
That’s no longer an issue, as the 16,000-square-foot facility (with a 4,000-square-foot courtyard) is a far cry from the 6,000-square-foot Commercial Center location.
“We were able to create a building that we’re not going to grow out of in two or three years, that will grow with us,” Nichols said.
The redesign of the center includes improvements on programs and services, such as a library, social and support groups and testing for sexually transmitted diseases through a partnership with the Southern Nevada Health District. New elements also were added.
“We have built a center that is very prideful,” Nichols said. “It’s beautiful. It is a community center that is deserving of our population.”
The building is contemporary in its aesthetics, with bold, bright colors, an abundance of natural light and an open, airy design.
The meeting rooms are now in a community event hall that accommodates 617 people when partitions are taken down. More groups can meet, and the design allows staff to arrange cultural programming for the community (LGBTQ and otherwise), including local talent showcases, book signings and independent film screenings.
Another improvement is a new health and wellness center, which has a separate entrance and reception area. “It’s a very private and confidential area, whereas previously folks were waiting in our main lobby,” Goodwin said. It also features private meeting rooms for clients to be tested and counseled, and the center hopes to expand into mental health services.
Other features include a youth room (with a billiards table, 3-D-capable television and small kitchen), a reception area outfitted with television screens to let clients know where groups are meeting, a full kitchen to serve both the café and the event hall, and gender-neutral bathrooms dubbed “The Johns.”
There’s an outdoor sports court and the eatery, the Bronze Cafe, features coffee, tea and espresso, as well as vegan and vegetarian food options.
Already the staff says community members are filling the library and computer center’s seats daily, and that the cafe is buzzing during meal times.
“What’s been really exciting for me is to see all the community members who live in just the surrounding area here come in because they want to see what we’re doing,” Goodwin said. “And all the young people playing basketball on our sports court — every day, every afternoon, every evening. It’s been really great.”
Nichols and Goodwin said the center thinks of itself as the “east anchor” of the downtown revitalization project, and that the move to the area could spur the development of an LGBTQ neighborhood in Las Vegas. Chicago has its Boystown and San Francisco has the Castro, but Las Vegas lacks a vibrant neighborhood filled with LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses or establishments geared toward the community.
“What’s happening downtown is very attractive to the LGBT community, and the center’s presence is going to be a huge part of that,” Goodwin said.
“I think we’ve passed a point of our adolescence as an organization, and now we’re growing up.”