In August 2013, the bungalow at 2335 Central Avenue in St. Petersburg was donated to Metro Wellness and Community Centers for them to use as an LGBT Welcome Center and coffeehouse. The previous owners had only one condition attached to this donation: Metro had to move the house off the lot. In the middle of the night, they did just that, moving the house one block to 2227 Central Avenue. Shortly thereafter, renovations began on the 90-year-old house.
A soft opening in November was a rousing success, and the LGBT Welcome Center and coffeehouse celebrated its grand opening on Friday, December 12. On hand at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a staunch LGBT ally. The LGBT Welcome Center is only the third of its kind in the nation, after Seattle and Miami Beach. At the Welcome Center, people can come in, ask about LGBT-friendly businesses and nightlife, pick up brochures, and even enjoy coffee at a coffeehouse. The coffeehouse was designed to be a safe space for LGBT youth and also give LGBT adults an opportunity to socialize that doesn’t involve bars or nightclubs.
I spoke with Chris Rudisill, Director of LGBT Community Center Services, about the new LGBT Welcome Center and what it took to get it open.
What was it like when the LGBT Welcome Center had its soft opening?
It was so exciting to finally see the doors open and people coming in. We don’t have a lot of programs going yet, but it was nice to welcome people in after we were closed so long for renovations. There was just a lot of excitement and great energy from the community. We recently had our first candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day and we had about 100 people. It was great to see the house full.
What sorts of programs and amenities are offered at the Welcome Center?
We have the Coffee Talk event that happens at the house every Friday, where people can come to the house, grab a cup of coffee, and chat about current events. We’re looking forward to offering acoustic nights, a youth night, bear social Fridays for the bear community, game nights, porch parties, movie night…I’m even excited about throwing a Super Bowl party at the house. The space lends itself to doing some really unique things in addition to the programs and services we already offer at the Community Center.
In our coffeehouse we are serving Kahwa Coffee, which is roasted right here in Tampa Bay. We’re really proud to partner with them. It’s a great place to take people on a first date, or to meet friends out for a night where you might not want to go to a bar. This is a space that we hope people find not just LGBT-friendly, but also open and welcoming.
Why is it important for Tampa Bay to have an LGBT Welcome Center?
Tourism is important to Tampa Bay, and of course part of that is LGBT tourism. You see that in the crowds that come to St. Pete Pride, and the crowds that will be coming to the new Tampa Pride. There’s also the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; that’s well-known across the country. All of these highlight how great of an area it is that we live in, and the LGBT Welcome Center hopes to attract travelers who will bring in more tourism dollars to our area.
I read online that you worked with Visit Florida. How were they of assistance?
We received a marketing grant from Visit Florida. First off, the funding is always appreciated when projects like this are started, but also we were grateful to cultivate the working relationship with them. They were interested to see how we provide resources to the community and tell them about LGBT-friendly businesses.
What all went into making this Welcome Center a reality?
There was a lot of the support from the community. Without the support from the community, this Welcome Center would not have happened. People like Brian Longstreth and the Grand Central District and Larry Biddle were all people who helped contribute to bringing the Welcome Center to where it is now. I think it would have happened sooner, except the right opportunities hadn’t presented itself before this point, before we found the bungalow a little over a year ago.
We moved the house, put it in its place, and started working on it. The house has such a great energy too. The people who lived in the house years ago were heavily involved in the city. One of the men who lived there painted these beautiful watercolor paintings that actually hang in City Hall today.
The LGBT Welcome Center is located at 2227 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, and is open seven days a week. For more information on the LGBT Welcome Center, visit lgbtwelcomecenter.com.