The leadership of William Way LGBT Community Center recently announced plans to redesign and expand its building at 1315 Spruce Street. With the help of two grants totaling $3.5 million, the center’s expansion campaign, dubbed “Build the Way,” will include a rental space, a new catering kitchen, a new event space, and plenty of space for the center’s wealth of programming. The redeveloped building designed by Metcalfe Architecture & Design will also include a ten story tower for office and meeting space, a modernized look and more accessibility.
“It is a transformative moment for the Center, because we’ve seen in the past year that there’s more of a need for the Center than ever to confront the forces of hatred, intolerance, inequity and inequality,” said executive director Chris Bartlett. “The Center is a home for all the work that builds an inclusive, supportive, liberatory, welcoming space not only for queer people, but for our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers.”
William Way has been providing that inclusive, affirming environment for nearly 50 years, but the Center’s leadership anticipates that need to grow, “especially for those most in need – transgender communities, Black and Brown communities, and folks who are in the greatest need of art and culture, empowerment and community connection,” Bartlett added.
The Center received $2,500,000 from Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to be allocated toward enhancement and expansion, and $1,000,000 from the William Penn Foundation to help with architectural planning and design. A new HVAC system has already been installed, renovations of the front part of the building are complete, and demolition of the back sections of the building will begin in October, 2023. On that site, the new tower will be built, which will connect to the front of the building.
The floors of the existing building are uneven above the ground floor, Bartlett said, making it difficult for people who use wheelchairs to get from one side to the other. Going forward, Bartlett and the William Way team are committing to making the new building completely accessible to all.
“We’re centering the Center’s response to those most in need, whether those are trans folks, Black and Brown folks, women and others,” Bartlett said. “We’re looking at what it means for the building to be welcoming to those folks. That impacts the way that we design the building, where program spaces are, and what security looks like.”
Bartlett formally announced the grants at a press conference at William Way on November 29. He was joined by WWCC staff and leaders including Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, Pa. Senators Sharif Street and Nikil Saval, Pa. Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, William Way board officer Kira Kinsman, Celena Morrison, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, and Kathy Christiano, board member at the William Penn Foundation. Bartlett also thanked Renee Gilinger, Willam Way’s Capital Campaign associate, as well as Pa. Reps Brian Sims, Jordan Harris and Mary Isaacson, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, and Councilmember Mark Squilla for their support of the Center.
“When you’re making Pennsylvania a place that’s welcome for the LGBTQ community, you’re making a place that’s welcome for everyone,” Wolf said at the press conference. “The William Way Center has committed to the community in ways that I don’t think any other organization has in the history of Philadelphia. It’s an institution that’s grown, it’s changed with the community that it serves, and the people here have changed countless lives.”
In speaking about her own transition and the sense of community that William Way has fostered, Kinsman shared a story of her first encounter with the Center.
“When I moved here six years ago it was to give myself space to hopefully find my most authentic self,” Kinsman said at the press conference. “One day early on I came to the William Way Center. In walking into this charmingly well-worn lobby, I realized that maybe for the first time in my life, I found my people. You hear folks say that the William Way Center saves lives. The vibrant community I found here lifted me up and showed me how to thrive again.”
Morrison highlighted the many ways that the team at William Way has served the community and has collaborated with the Office of LGBT Affairs, including participating in LGBTQ flag raisings, educating the community about the importance of voting, and holding events in honor of Trans Day of Remembrance.
“During a time in our country when there are people fighting to take rights and lives in many ways, connecting and supporting our communities is more important than ever,” Morrison said. “This Capital Campaign investment from RACP will allow William Way to expand the center and in turn the number of people they’re able to serve. An active and important part of the LGBTQ+ community here in Philadelphia, the William Way Center embodies the spirit of Philadelphia, of resiliency, of brotherly love and sisterly affection.”
Sen. Saval discussed William Way’s impact in the context of a lack of a state-wide law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
“William Way’s continued efforts show radical community care in the face of this absence of state-level protection,” Saval said at the press conference. “The community has stepped in, often where government has failed to act. Every day the team at William Way fights to make our city and our world more equitable, and more compassionate. This grant will help make possible an expansion of William Way’s services by making the physical space more accessible, by allowing for enhanced services, and by creating additional space for celebration, community and joy.”