The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada for two decades has served as a home away from home for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and adults.
Now, The Center finally has a permanent home all its own.
Staffers and volunteers are putting finishing touches on The Center’s new $4 million digs in a freestanding building in downtown Las Vegas. The 16,000-square-foot Robert L. Forbuss Building, in a residential neighborhood on Maryland Parkway at Lewis Avenue, is set to open early next month.
The fully renovated facility is a far cry from The Center’s previous home — a cramped storefront next to a swingers club in Commercial Center — and represents a coming of age for the organization.
“Nonprofits have their own life cycle, and we’ve definitely been around long enough to pass adolescence into full adulthood,” said Candice Nichols, executive director of The Center. “It’s the right move for us to now own our own space.”
That space, the pinnacle of a five-year strategic plan, allows The Center to expand its hours and services, which include social and support groups, free HIV testing and flu shots.
There’s a health and wellness center with a private entrance, plenty of conference and meeting rooms, a children’s play area, a cafe, a library and 4,000 square feet of outdoor courtyard space.
The building, constructed in the 1970s and once a paint store, was completely gutted for The Center.
“Everything, from roof to insulation to electrical, is new,” Nichols said.
The move elevates The Center from a place providing essential services to “a community center in the truest sense of the word,” Nichols said.
Previously, “if you didn’t need those services, you wouldn’t come into our building,” she said. “Now, the rest of the community will want to come in.”
It’s also exciting to be part of the revitalization of downtown, Nichols said. She hopes attorneys and others who work in the area choose The Center for meetings and lunches.
“We want to bring people in so the rest of the community is aware of what we have to offer,” she said.
It’s been a long road getting here. The Center’s first dedicated space was a former dental office on a side street off East Sahara Avenue. In 2002, it moved into Commercial Center. Then, in 2006, The Center moved a few doors down in the same shopping center, into a roughly 6,000-square-foot space that was “old, creaky and weird,” said Mel Goodwin, program director.
When Nichols came aboard eight years ago, The Center had just two staffers. Its current staff of seven will swell to a dozen by the end of the year, Nichols said. The Center’s budget also has grown from about $200,000 to $1.3 million.
The Center has long served as a social, political, educational and recreational focal point for Southern Nevada’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Sometimes, it simply provided a safe space for people who needed support, such as Goodwin.
She first visited The Center when she came out as a teenager “for the support I wasn’t getting at home.”
She later became a volunteer and, in 2008, was hired as The Center’s youth services director. Now 27, Goodwin says the move is emotional for her.
“The old building holds so many memories for me, both personally and professionally,” she said.
But the new building “is beyond our wildest dreams. The community has really believed in our dream and supported us.”
Nichols echoed that sentiment, saying “almost every property on the Strip” contributed to The Center’s fundraising campaign.
Such support means a lot to the local gay community, Nichols said.
“For so long, people were closeted,” she said. “They didn’t talk about being gay. Ownership of a new center is saying, ‘We’re here. We’re part of your community, and look what we’ve built.’”
Contact Lynnette Curtis at Lynnette.Curtis@yahoo.com.