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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Horizons to Change Name, Identity
Morphs into 'Center on Halsted'
by TRACY BAIM
2003-03-05

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The dream: a 93,000-square-foot architecturally beautiful Halsted home for non-profits, cultural and sports organizations.

The reality: Raising more than $23 million.

The Steering Committee for the Center on Halsted unveiled plans last week for the GLBT community center, which is expected to break ground this summer with a projected completion by 2005.

But perhaps the biggest news reported to the several dozen community organizational leaders at the Feb. 27 meeting held at Harris Bank was a dramatic change in name and mission for Horizons Community Services, the non-profit agency spearheading the Center on Halsted.

Possibly as early as July 1, the agency will change its name to Center on Halsted, with the Steering Committee—which previously reported to the Horizons board—merging with the existing Horizons board, and both arms of the agency operating under a new leadership team. Since a replacement for outgoing Horizons Executive Director Frank Oldham has not been hired, the new head of the agency is likely to have experience in both social services as well as running a project similar to the Center on Halsted.

Modesto 'Tico' Valle is the current interim Horizons executive director, so he is expected to remain in that capacity until a new director is hired.

'When I took the acting ED position, I took it knowing I did not want a permanent position,' Valle said. 'This is an opportunity for us to really open up the process and to reach out to the community, and see what kind of leader the community is looking for. I did not assume it was me. I will work hard to make sure we continue to serve clients and staff, and I will have a role in the future.'

This 'morphing' of Horizons into the Center on Halsted was met with little comment from those at the meeting—they were mainly heads of existing GLBT groups who might be interested in renting space at a proposed Center. It remains to be seen how the community in general will respond to the change in name of the 30-year-old Horizons, which originally was Gay Horizons. When the Center project was first launched two years ago, there were concerns that it would overwhelm the fundraising and staff of Horizons—this new change may validate those fears.

But because Horizons has struggled financially, including staff layoffs, this merger is also seen as a way to help the agency. Many non-profits are facing decreased fundraising, foundation and corporate support, so Steering Committee members said this change will help eliminate some duplicate costs if two separate non-profits were established.

In addition, the merger of the two boards will mean both getting rid of people who want to move on to new projects, and adding new sets of skills needed during the building fund campaign.

Everyone Windy City Times spoke with on the Steering Committee emphasized that Horizons' mission of providing social services will remain a strong focus. Morris Floyd, Center project director, said Horizons' programs would occupy approximately 25 percent of the new facility. The name 'Horizons' would likely be kept as part of the programs, for example naming the youth programs after the old agency name.

Marcia Lipetz, Steering Committee vice chair, had been involved with Horizons in the 1980s. She said the agency's legacy and history will not be lost.

'It is an organizational transformation,' Lipetz said. 'These are new times, with new possibilities and opportunities. To be able to bring the best of Horizons' past—those programs—and strengthen them, ground them in a different way in a community, and then add on cultural and recreational activities, gives us a very different entity, with roots in Horizons, but with a different future.'

Lipetz pointed out that the 'Halsted' name goes back more than 100 years, to the old settlement houses on Halsted, including the Jane Addams Hull House for new immigrants.

_____

Will the fundraising for Center on Halsted—the building—distract from fundraising for Center on Halsted programs formerly operating as Horizons?

Interim Horizons Executive Director Tico Valle said he believes the dual mission won't hurt fundraising. Some events, such as the annual Horizons gala April 5, will just raise funds for programs.

Steering Committee Chair Patrick Sheahan believes that when doing the 'ask' for funds, having the capital campaign will actually help in asking for additional support for social-service programs.

'When Frank Oldham left, it gave us the opportunity to say the next person hired is not the Horizons ED, they have to be ED or President for the Center on Halsted,' said Steering Committee member Evette Cardona. 'They have to have a bigger vision, more than what Horizons offered. Because Horizons was a social-service agency. The Center will be that and much more.

'The Horizons change has been floated and talked about at many different levels,' Sheahan said. 'I think everybody is looking at it as part of a natural evolution. Horizons programs and services are the heart and soul of this. As Marcia said, a fundamental question was do we create another 501(c)3 non-profit, and layer on top of the community more administrative costs, ED, development, etc.? That's too much for the community. We think it would be irresponsible to do that—given the current [economic] climate. It is a bold step, and a really historic step. One we think is very exciting, and certainly the board and all those associated with Horizons [including staff and funders] support this.'

Sheahan is Chair of the Steering Committee and a member of Horizons' board. While the Steering Committee recommended this change, the Horizons board, chaired by Dave Halverson, had ultimate approval.

Sheahan said July 1 is just a target date for all of these changes, including hiring a new director and merging the two boards.

Asked if the newly reformulated Horizons board would be elected during a public meeting, as has happened at past Horizons annual meetings, Sheahan said it is not known yet how the new board will be put into place.

_____

One emphasis at the public meeting was fundraising goals—and what has been raised or committed so far. Some of those funds are state dollars, and with Illinois facing a budget crisis, some wonder how guaranteed those funds are. Sheahan said the Steering Committee believes those state dollars are still a reliable base of support.

By the end of 2002, the funds committed from public, private and foundation support were at $8 million. In 2003, the Center goal is to raise an additional $7 million and secure $4-5 million in financing, bringing the total project funding to more than $19 million by year-end. In 2004, they hope to add $3 million in fundraising. And by 2005, when the Center is expected to serve clients, they hope to have raised $2 million more, bringing the total to more than $23 million.

Only in the very end-stage will they be making direct appeals to the community, when the 'finish line' is within reach, said Steering Committee Vice Chair Lipetz.

Steering Committee members have pledged $300,000. Other major donations have come from the city and state, as well as the John Baran Fund, Polk Bros. Foundation, the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, and the Northalsted Area Merchants Association.

'This is very ambitious in the economic times we are in, we recognize that,' Sheahan told the audience. 'But we continue to be encouraged by individuals and foundations.'

For example, Mayor Richard Daley and tennis legend Billie Jean King have signed on to be the honorary co-chairs of the Center. Michael Bauer and Martin Gapshis are spearheading community fundraising, while Steering Committee member Robert Bell co-chairs the group's fundraising committee.

If fundraising goals are met, groundbreaking could be late summer or early fall of this year, Sheahan said.

'I think this is a historic opportunity, where we sit right now,' Sheahan said. 'I probably sit in a different vantage point than most, but so many people who have supported this project, who wouldn't normally sit in same room together, we are bringing all these people together. ... It is historic. And it's up to us to make it happen. ... All of us have to compromise and be a part of it.'

Robert Bell also said the Center plans to maintain a $4 million endowment in case the agency faces a shortfall, to cover maintenance and operating costs.

_____

Much of what was presented to the community groups Feb. 27 were the actual interior and exterior architectural drawings for the proposed center, at the corner of Halsted and Waveland, across from Brown Elephant and Circuit bar, and just north of the Town Hall Police District.

The drawings, by Destefano + Keating architects, showed a three-story building with large glass storefronts, a two-story theater, and large gym space with locker rooms. It has offices for social-services programs by the former Horizons, as well as rentable meeting rooms, small offices, and open-air cubicles. While the retail space will be market rate, the small offices and cubicles are expected to be available low-cost to non-profits and small businesses.

Steering Committee member Evette Cardona said many focus groups were held to find out what the space needs were. While larger agencies would not be able to move fully into the space, they might set up satellite offices. 'We wanted this process to be open and transparent,' Cardona said. 'So we have the best Center that is in us.'

'We think this building design reflects the values and opportunities we think this community is about,' said Communications Committee Co-chair Julio Rodriguez.

The vision is 'An LGBT journey ... celebrating, affirming and discovering possibilities.' The mission: 'In a safe and nurturing environment, the Center on Halsted will serve as a catalyst that links and provides community resources and enriches life experience.'

Vicki Raymont, co-chair of the Building and Program Committee with Dan Foy, spoke about the design, which features 'open, safe, nurturing and flexible' space. The first floor would have space for youth, retail (9,000-10,000 square feet), a cyber center, cafe, open space for seating, mailboxes, a resource center, a helpline, office space, and the performance venue. The second floor would have offices, meeting rooms, a gallery, Horizons programs, and the theater's second floor. There would also be a two-story atrium.

The third floor would be a multi-use gym, with space for two full basketball courts or four full volleyball courts. There are also locker rooms, a catering kitchen, storage rooms and a roof garden.

The 15 private offices for rent are approximately 120-130 square feet. There are also 22 cubicles in the current drawings.

Besides the fundraising, the hottest topic on people's minds was parking. The off-site parking solutions are far from resolved, with negotiations occurring with an elementary school for potential of about 150 spots.

The retail space on Halsted will rent for market rate, which might price out many GLBT businesses, several which have left Halsted in recent years. Steering Committee members said they are seeking businesses who are 'mission-friendly,' meaning they support the GLBT mission of the Center. That does not exclude a non-gay business. It could mean a straight-owned bookstore or bank might be able to afford the space on Halsted, pricing out a GLBT-owned small business.

'We want to attract a group of 'mission friendly' retailers,' said Morris Floyd, project director. 'One, they want to serve LGBTs. Two, they have some track record in serving the community. And three, they are a good employer. We have not not ruled anything out or in. However, our conversations with tenants have been biased, if anything, in favor of local GLBT community-based businesses.'

_____

For almost two years, the Steering Committee and About Face Theatre were in discussions about ABT becoming the resident theater for the Center on Halsted. For the past few weeks, Windy City Times has received calls from supporters of both groups hoping for a resolution. But in the end, the two sides could not come to an agreement. Some view this as hurting the Center's plans by not having an anchor cultural group, but others said they believe the 175-seat theater space will easily attract a variety of events.

Steering Committee Chair Patrick Sheahan said he believes ABT might end up using the space for some of its projects, but that both agencies had differing missions.

No one would say on the record what the wide variety of issues were, but one seems to be about 'control.' ABT is seeking a permanent home, and therefore if this would have been it, ABT would have wanted to have an overall control of the space. That would not mean Center on Halsted and other agencies could not use the space, but that ABT would act as producers of events.

'At the end of the day, it appeared we had different missions and needs,' Sheahan said. 'We continue to talk about how they could be a part of the Center in other ways.'

'It didn't work, because what each of the organizations needed independently was different than what the two organizations could do coming together,' Lipetz said.

ABT, meanwhile, will likely begin their own work on a permanent home for their nationally acclaimed theater.

_____

In closing the meeting, Sheahan asked rhetorically, Why be so bold? He quoted architect and city planner Daniel Burnham, who said after the 1871 Chicago fire, 'Make no small plans.'

'But it won't happen without you,' Sheahan told the audience. 'And it will happen when all of us come together. The 'how' is you and the people you know.'

See www.CenteronHalsted.org or call (773) 348-8264.


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