Metro purchases St. Pete location, solidifies permanent home

Metro Wellness & Community Center, in partnership with Community AIDS Network (CAN), has purchased its St. Petersburg location after a seven-month legal battle.

The previous owner attempted to sell the building last summer out from underneath Metro, even attempting to have the clinic evicted. Metro was forced to file for an injunction and fight it out in court.

“It’s been seven months of a lot of work,” Metro Chief Executive Officer Lorraine Langlois says. “We were given a three-day notice to vacate [by the owner], which is against the law, and the judge said, ‘No,you can’t do that to people.’”

Metro and CAN close April 15 on the building with the previous owner. Metro will own it with CAN, in an equal partnership.

“We were in need of more space: not just for staff, but for community activities going on. We had been restrained by what we could do and we need to make this place a lot nicer for people to come to,” Langlois says.

Metro currently occupies about 18,000 square feet of the building’s space (the entire building is 47,000 square feet) but plans to expand an additional 10,000 square feet.

“We are going to expand our testing area and the primary care, as well as the HIV clinic,” Langlois says. “The rest we have some different plans for, for part of which we are looking at some revenue making options. There are a lot of smaller offices that I think we will probably rent out, like we did for [St. Pete] Pride.”

The expansion could not have come at a better time as Metro and CAN have recently added more doctors to the staff.

“CAN has brought on Dr. [Brian] Elliot, and he has been an HIV doctor in this area for 15 years, and he had 700 patients he saw at his previous clinic,” Langlois says. “I’m sure some of them will follow him here, and we have Dr. [Douglas] Walsh here now. We were having a hard time keeping up, so we brought on some more help.”

Langlois is hoping to start construction on the building shortly after they close April 15.

“The building will need some work: We need a whole new roof, we have 15 A/C units right now, one of which is salvageable, so that along with expanding the space will happen. Expanding the clinic space will be a priority,” she says.

For now, though, Langlois’ main focus will be working to raise the $500,000 needed for the down payment. Metro has already reached out for the assistance of Larry Biddle to help raise funds.

“We are hoping to get some people to come forward who believe having a home for the LGBT community forever is necessary and think it would be such a great gift to the community,” Langlois says.

The Kenwood area has long been an unofficial LGBT area for St. Petersburg, but when Georgie’s Alibi closed last September, many worried whether that would be the first in a line of dominoes to fall. Langlois sees the opposite happening.

“Behind Georgie’s is where Burlington Place is being built, and that’s going to be affordable housing, and there will be a niche for LGBT seniors, so I’m working with those folks, too,” she says.

With Metro cementing their presence in Kenwood as land owners and Punky’s huge success since opening last year, things seem to still be going strong for the area.

“We are trying to work with all the developers in the area so that we can really keep it focused on LGBT [people], and I think everyone is excited about that,” Langlois says.

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