As the Spencer Pride organization prepared to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its well-received LGBTQ+ center, quietly behind the scenes the Board of Directors was working on a huge next step for the organization – ownership of their own building.
The Spencer Pride commUnity center is currently housed within a beautiful old building on the south side of the Owen County Courthouse. The organization rents from local owner Mike Sudol. Although the initial plan was to eventually consume the entire 3,000 square feet of space in the Sudol building, it did not take much time for Spencer Pride volunteers to realize that they’d need much more space to truly meet their planned needs & to allow for room to ‘dream’ further.
“We never imagined one year ago how much of an impact having a community center would have. We’ve quadrupled our volunteer base in the last 12 months alone,” says Judi Epp, Spencer Pride’s treasurer & volunteer coordinator. “We now have the capacity to do more than we imagined we would be able to at this point.”
When the SPCC opened last September, the organization hoped to expand its hours of operation to 5 days a week over the next 5 years. After just 11 months in operation, the SPCC was already open 4 days a week.
Additionally, because of the sizable increase in volunteers, regular meetings at the center are consuming more space than was initially expected. The original plan for a smaller, multi-use space was for a smaller organization and no longer meets the needs of the not-for-profit.
On October 2, Spencer Pride Inc., closed a deal to purchase a much larger structure on the north side of the courthouse, just east of the Spencer Coffee Shop which is currently under construction. The acquisition is the first-ever property purchase that the organization has made.
The property is located at 17 East Franklin Street. It is a two-story facility that includes more than 9,000 square feet. The property has served a variety of different businesses over the past couple of decades, including Chaps Steakhouse and the Open Door Christian Fellowship. The building was originally constructed in the late 19th century. For many years, it served as the local lodge of the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization.
Spencer Pride has big plans for the new space, but first will work with a local architecture firm to develop the design. Ultimately the new Spencer Pride commUnity center will be a fully functioning LGBTQ+ center.
Unity, Spencer Pride’s retail shop, will find a welcome home in the new space that more than doubles its current footprint. This will enable a significant expansion of its already very diverse selection of goods from local artists and craftspeople. Unity’s ever-popular selection of retail will also be given more room on the shelves.
In addition to Unity, the center will contain a large meeting room & event hall, the latter of which was originally the building’s grand ballroom. This will allow for diverse use by the community and its many organizations and businesses. Plans for the space also include offering rental units for the aging LGBTQ+ community & more.
A solar roof and other features will ensure that the newly renovated structure will have a minimal environmental impact.
“We are excited to have achieved this milestone for Spencer Pride and the entire community. We look forward to all that the new center will be able to offer the people of Owen and surrounding counties,” said Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride’s President.
Balash explained that the timing of the transition from their current building to the new one is dependent upon many variables, including the financing of their vision for the Franklin Street property.
“Over the next few months we will be engaging with many entities in order to properly plan the space,” he said. “While we are all eager to get into the new facility, we want to do it right. This is a huge investment in our downtown.”
Balash noted that the complete development of their new center will likely take several years and would happen in several phases. As funds are identified, the speed of the building’s transformation will increase.
Cathy Wyatt, longtime volunteer and Director of Spencer Pride, is one of the members of the Rainbow Capital Campaign, the committee within Spencer Pride responsible for the identification and logistics of the property purchase. Wyatt and her husband Dan had been looking at the property for some time before bringing it to the attention of the Spencer Pride board of directors. Now, the committee is tasked with driving the development of the facility design.
“This was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Wyatt confessed. “We are pleased that things were able to work out. The new building on Franklin Street will allow us to do what we’ve dreamed of doing for the past decade.”
Balash expressed gratitude to their current landlord, Mike Sudol, & his wife Denise.
“It was only because of their support that we had the initial opportunity to have a presence downtown on the square. We will forever be grateful for the role they played in helping us move the organization forward.”
For more information about Spencer Pride, visit www.SpencerPride.org or visit the current commUnity center at 46 East Market Street in Spencer.