LGBT community center wins space in D.C. government building

The D.C. Center will soon occupy this prime 14th Street space. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

A community center for the District’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has found a long-term home inside a well-known city government building.

The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, known as the “D.C. Center,” won a solicitation for storefront space in the Frank D. Reeves Center, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Tuesday evening. That decision gives the decade-old center a 15-year toehold at 14th and U streets NW, in a neighborhood where its struggled to find permanent space.

“To know we’ll be in the same location for 15 years is amazing,” said David Mariner, the center’s executive director.

The 2,468-square-foot space opens onto 14th Street NW just north of U Street. It previously held a Ben’s Chili Bowl outpost and an art gallery; a post office branch recently opened next door.

Brian Hanlon, director of the city’s Department of General Services, said the approximate rent is about $20 per square foot, which works out to about $50,000 a year. That’s under market rate for the neighborhood, he said, but is more than enough to cover the city’s costs. It’s also more than the previous tenant, the Emma Mae Gallery, paid, which was nothing at all. And it’s more than the D.C. Center has paid in the past; according to its 2010 tax return, the most recent available, about $22,000 of its $130,000 in total expenses went to office costs.

Mariner, who said the center is paying for build-out costs as well, called the deal a “good example of a public-private partnership.” He did not venture an anticipated opening date.

The award ends a nine-month push by the D.C. Center and its allies to win the solicitation for the space — an effort in which they enlisted the support of D.C. Council members and other influential parties to convince property officials to take more into account than the bottom line. Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) appeared at the announcement Tuesday and hailed the provision of “permanent” space for the center.

In June, city property official made an initial award to a bidder proposing a restaurant for the space. Hanlon said his office was “unable to come to terms” with that bidder, and the solicitation was restarted. On the rebid, the D.C. Center won.

Gray also announced a new director Tuesday for his Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.

Sterling Washington, most recently with the Center for Black Equity, replaces Jeffrey Richardson, who was promoted to run the mayoral volunteerism office, Serve DC. Washington is a District native and graduate of George Washington and Howard universities who held low-level White House appointments in the Clinton administration.

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