Why did OutCentral close so abruptly?
When Kesley Page assumed the presidency at OutCentral in January, he had no idea how tumultuously the forthcoming five months would unfold. A couple weeks had passed since the board of Nashville’s only LGBT community center announced its pending closure when Page spoke out on issues he discovered that, it appears, inevitably led to the organization’s end.
“I can’t speak for the whole board on most things,” he said upfront. “I can tell you my personal stuff.”
Though he’d been a member of the center’s board for two years, it wasn’t until he became president in January of this year that he began an examination of the organization’s vital stats. He didn’t like what he saw.
“Every day I would learn new stuff and report that to the board and we would plan accordingly,” he said.
Most notably, he discovered the center had months of unpaid rent that was due and a number of years unfiled taxes. He searched for a copy of the center’s lease and, though the board immediately began paying current month’s rent, the unpaid rents sat on the backburner while other issues surfaced. In early May, OutCentral received a letter from the IRS stating that it had revoked the center’s 501(c)3 status, effectively precluding the organization from collected money as a non-profit.
The board had spent months searching for a tax accountant who would provide pro bono services and, ironically, that person was discovered within days of the letter from the IRS. Soon, the entire board of OutCentral collectively saw the writing on the wall.
“I contacted that pro bono tax accountant and went over our options to reinstate,” Page said, “and we had also started working with a non-profit consultant on how to improve our organization and, through lots of discussions and several meetings, it was declared that it would be near impossible for us to revive our status once the IRS took it away.”
“It was just advised to us via the consultant and the accountant to just let the IRS take the [non-profit] status and then we would dissolve.”
The community center, in its current incarnation, was founded in 2007 as a complement to the long defunct OutLoud! bookstore by which it neighbored on the 1700 block of Church Street. At the time, Church was burgeoning as an LGBT ‘gayborhood’ with more promise than anything concrete: Tribe and Play had recently opened; a bar called Club Blu was born, died, and then reborn as Blue Genes.
In the time since, the community along with the city at large sprawled out in every direction. Church Street ended up just another midtown thoroughfare, exploding with new businesses, traffic, and people. A national decree of marriage equality from the Supreme Court, and continued acceptance of LGBT people across America left many cities without defined ‘gay ghettos’ like the one that had been on precipice on Church in Nashville.
But OutCentral had its own issues to contend with, too.
“It’s my personal opinion that the model the center was founded on was not sustainable from the beginning,” Page said. “The sustainability of the center was based on donations, tenants and event rentals and what I’ve encountered on the board is the logistics of the location and the building really prevented any type of long term planning or programming to be obtained which really prevented us from having any sort of sustainable income.”
“The office spaces in the back were small,” he added. “They didn’t have any windows. There was never a lot of parking, and the parking that we did have was taken away last year.”
By mid-May the board had decided upon closure and had intended to keep the doors open through the end of the month. And then more calamity struck.
“We voted [to close] on Tuesday May 15, and then on Wednesday there was a fire out back of the building, closer to Blue Genes and it smoked our suite out, big time,” he said. “No true smoke damage came from that. There was damage to the roof of the building and the gutter system. Then that following Monday a large storm hit Nashville and it flooded our building, more than half of it. Standing water, pretty high up.”
“The fire happened next door, he said. “It didn’t have many things to catch on to and there are fire walls in there, so that did help, but the outside that was caught on fire, and the roof and the ceiling and our HVAC system, and so when it poured raining in the storm there was nowhere for the water to go and so we flooded.”
Page had big plans for his tenure as president of OutCentral but it appears that putting the house in order, and then emergency situations, took up too much of his time until it all fell apart.
“There’ve been several contributing factors that have got us to where we are,” he said. “It was not just one thing. It was not one person’s poor judgement or lack of initiative. There’s just several things that all piled up over the last several years that made this year really difficult to thrive and once that status was revoked from the IRS, that was the nail in our coffin.”