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Senior center patrons protesting lease to LGBT center

A panel of advisers to an established senior center on the edge of Mount Vernon is protesting a proposal to lease space in its city-owned building to Baltimore's gay community center.

The Waxter Center Advisory Council fears younger patrons of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore could disturb older patrons of the building's senior center, which has been in operation for nearly 40 years, said Lester Buster, president of the advisory council.

"We just don't know whether or not that will be a good mix," said Buster, 79, of West Baltimore. "We don't know whether teenagers popping in and out would make a difference, because I know I don't move as fast as I used to."

In a formal protest filed with the Board of Estimates, which is set to consider the lease proposal on Wednesday, the advisory council also expressed concerns about security and with on-going maintenance problems with the building.

Buster said he plans to speak against the lease before the Board of Estimates on Wednesday.

The lease proposal, published Monday, would provide the gay and lesbian center, or GLCCB, with about 4,700 square feet of space on the now-empty third floor of the Waxter Center.

Under the proposed lease, the GLCCB would pay the city about $2,522 per month for the first year, for an annual total of about $30,268.

The GLCCB sold its own building, at 241 West Chase St., in May for $235,000. The center has been located in that building since 1980.

Matt Thorn, executive director of the GLCCB, said most of the center's programs are held during the evening or on weekends, when the senior center is closed, and so won't disturb existing programming.

"The seniors aren't even really going to see or run into anybody from our programs," he said.

Thorn said he has tried to diminish fears by stressing the GLCCB's off-hours schedule and working closely with city officials on the proposed deal.

Caron A. Brace, a spokesperson for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the administration "has worked in close partnership with GLCCB leadership to ensure a seamless transition." 

The Department of General Services, which oversees city-owned properties, responded to the advisory council's protest filing with assurances that it would work closely with the advisory council to ensure concerns are addressed, said Harriette Taylor, the city's deputy comptroller.

The comptroller's office handles all filings before the Board of Estimates.

General services officials said there would be increased lighting and tree-trimming around the center, and security cameras would be upgraded, Taylor said. The center's policy banning alcohol would remain in effect, officials said, and the GLCCB would be responsible for providing security at all public events it hosts in the building.

Officials also said they would continue to work with the advisory council to address on-going concerns about the Waxter Center, including needed ventilation and parking lot repairs and concerns that parts of the building are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Concerns about the condition of the Waxter Center have been around for years. A few years ago, the city considered selling the property to a developer in exchange for a new senior center being incorporated into plans for new apartments. That plan never came to fruition.

Some of the concerns mentioned by the seniors mirror those that drove the GLCCB out of its longtime home a couple blocks away.

Thorn said the GLCCB's former West Chase Street building no longer meets the needs of the center, in part because it does not comply with ADA requirements. It lacks an elevator, and much of its usable space is on upper levels.

The Waxter Center does have an elevator, he said. It is located at 1000 Cathedral Street, less than a quarter mile from the West Chase Street location and a stone's throw away from the gay cultural center of Mount Vernon.

Thorn said the GLCCB's clientele is aging, and he and other leaders hope moving to the Waxter Center would provide the opportunity to organize more programs for older LGBT residents in Baltimore, perhaps in partnership with Waxter Center leaders.

The lease would be effective upon approval by the Board of Estimates, with an option for the GLCCB to extent the lease for two additional one-year terms.

Cost of rent beyond the first year would be negotiated later.

The city, as the landlord, would provide security at the center during the day. The GLCCB would be allowed to use the space during evenings and weekends, but would be responsible for its own security during those times.

The city would be responsible for utilities and routine maintenance, but the GLCCB would be responsible for trash removal and computer and telephone services.

Thorn said were the lease approved, weekday use of the GLCCB would generally be limited to staff and a few clients using the center's computer lab.

Buster said despite his concerns, he does not want to send the wrong impression with his protest against the proposed lease.

His motivation is to protect the 55-and-older nature of the building, he said, not to exclude anyone — including senior members of the GLCCB's clientele.

"If, in fact, they have persons who are 55-plus and wish to join or be a part of the Waxter Center, I think they would fit right in," Buster said. "If they have persons who fit our age demographic, then fine, absolutely come on in."


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