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Thursday, Jan 17, 2019
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Bungalow will house St. Pete LGBT welcome center

ST. PETERSBURG - In many ways, it's the ideal place to open a welcome center for gay visitors and residents. More than 100,000 people flood St. Petersburg's Grand Central District in June for Florida's biggest gay pride festival. They visit longtime staples such as Georgie's Alibi for dancing and drinks or the Queens Head Restaurant and Eurobar, which hosts trivia nights led by drag queens. Some like it so much they move to Kenwood, a collection of historic homes just north of Central Avenue, where rainbow-colored flags hang from the porches of restored bungalows.
Metro Wellness & Community Centers is putting one of those 1920s bungalows on wheels next weekend and moving it next to the charity's thrift store at the corner of Central and 22nd Street. By this fall, it's expected to become a hub for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, hosting a café, film screenings and offering travel suggestions. It will also house the street-level office of Grand Central's Main Street organization, building on the district's reputation as a gay-friendly destination. "It shows there's a dynamic array of things to do here, not just for the LGBT community - for anyone who is looking for unique culture and world-class museums and restaurants and one-of-a-kind small businesses," said Adam Jahr, the LGBT program director for Metro. "We will be a concierge to the visiting LGBT community." Opening an LGBT welcome center has been a long-time goal of Metro Wellness CEO Lorraine Langlois. Metro offers HIV testing, therapy, social networking and health services through several locations in the Tampa Bay area. The chance to open a welcome center came when a nursing home on Central Avenue acquired an old 1,400-square-foot home next door on the 2700 block. Rather than demolishing the house, local Realtor Brian Longstreth convinced GSC of St. Pete to donate it to Metro. Crews will insert beams beneath the house's foundation and attach wheels beneath it before slowly hauling it a few blocks away. The move is scheduled for next Sunday, and Metro hopes to open the welcome center this fall. A founder of St. Pete Pride, Longstreth says a welcome center makes sense in a district that's drawing an increasing number of tourists who visit St. Pete Pride and return to the area again for vacation. Metro plans to host everything from writing workshops to youth programs at the repurposed house. Additionally, it will give the Grand Central District Association a ground floor office to welcome visitors and promote the area's bars, restaurants and boutique shops. "It's going to be great to have a central location where everybody can go," said association Director Lauren Ruiz, who currently works in a small office above an art supply store down the street. The state's tourism agency Visit Florida gave Metro a $5,000 grant for the welcome center as part of its efforts to raise the profile of gay-friendly destinations across the state. Carrie West, who runs an information center out of his gay pride store MC Film Fest across the bay in Ybor City, says the Tampa Bay area is becoming a hot spot for gay travel. Some weeks ago, a gay couple just married in Amsterdam dropped into his store and told him they planned to spend their honeymoon here after reading about Tampa's collection of gay-friendly businesses, known as Gaybor. "They've got to be welcomed. They've got to get the feel and temperature," said West. [email protected] (727) 215-1277
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