Milwaukee LGBT Center pays off debt

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

The once-beleaguered Milwaukee LGBT Community Center has eliminated its largest debt, which originally amounted to $500,000 for back rent and remodeling costs owed to the organization’s landlord.

After new leadership took control of the center early in 2012, negotiations began with Siegel-Gallagher, the building’s management company, to reduce the amount of space occupied by the center in the former Blatz Brewing Company building. That successful move eliminated the cost of future rent on unneeded space.

Interim executive director Karen Gotzler led a team that included center treasurer Peter Larson and attorneys Kass Hume and Jan Pierce to negotiate a deal reducing the center’s debt to the landlord to $93,000, with the stipulation that the amount would be paid in full within three years.

The center’s leaders were able to eliminate that debt by borrowing $50,000 from several supporters and offering to pay it immediately to the landlord in exchange for canceling out the center’s debt altogether. The landlord agreed.

Center board co-president Paul Williams said the $50,000 borrowed from supporters will be paid back in three years at an interest rate of 1 percent.

“(They’re) helping the center at a critical time so we can move forward toward our goals more quickly and save significant money in the process,” Williams said.

“These supporters saw the logic and the benefits to the center and the community – in terms of reducing overall debt, and in terms of further increasing the confidence of the broad community in the center,” said center board co-president Anne Perry Curley.

Williams praised Siegel-Gallagher for its role in facilitating the negotiations that brought the center so far from the fiscal cliff it faced just 18 months ago. “This is an amazing nonprofit turnaround story,” he said.

Center officials said they believe the debt elimination will enhance confidence in the center’s future and fuel enthusiasm for the “Believe in the Center” fundraising campaign that’s currently under way. The campaign aims to raise money that will expand support for programs such as SAGE Milwaukee and provide for basic resources, such as heat and light, which are not covered by direct program grants.

Next up on the center’s agenda is hiring a new executive director through a nationwide job search. CenterLink and the Johnson Family Foundation provided a $30,000 grant to conduct the search and support the hiring process.

“We have a job description out and we’re accepting applications now,” Williams said. 

“We’re getting a very strong response. It’s very exciting.”

In other developments, the center reported that its 2012 audit was completed on time, with a clean “non-modified” rating.  Copies of the audit are available at the center.

On the web: For more, or to donate to the center, go to www.mkelgbt.org.