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Part 2: STUDIO WEST RADIO INTERVIEW WITH GAYWAVES

Part 2 of 3:

Studio West Developer Betsy Figgie and Director of Programming, Education, & Outreach Lady J interview with GayWaves Radio Show.

Eric:
So, yeah. All right.

Eric:
So this is this is a large. This is a large complex and this is it. This is going to require a lot of money to maintain and to keep going over a period of time, a long period of time. You know what what you know what Freshwater Cleveland described.

Eric:
And I’m assuming that it’s accurate, is not it is not a low budget piece of property.

Eric:
Can, can, can it sustain, it cannot yet. It cannot sustain itself by doing the can.

Betsy:
I mean, the building itself is over 100 years old. It has great bones. And we’ve been through it with a number of structural engineers and contractors and electricians and all the trades. And so we’re getting a really good handle on what needs to be done to bring everything up to twenty, twenty or twenty, twenty standards. And by making some quality investments upfront, we’re in it for the long term. So we want to use energy efficient products. We want to make sure that we’re incorporating green elements into the project. And there are funding sources available for these. There’s a piece financing. There are other grants to use these types of materials. But again, I just want to stress, this is what Daniel and I do very, very successfully. You know, as our two separate companies and, you know, we’re really excited to undertake this because it’s not just putting together a budget and raising the capital to get the building built, but it’s looking at the pro forma operations of the complex to say how are these six separate venues going to produce cash flow to keep the facility in the black? We want to make sure that it is a spectacular experience for people that come to the Phantasy. And we want to preserve that over time. So we’re using a lot of these complex tools upfront to drive down the cost of the budget, the development budget. But then we’re also making sure that we’re spending the time right now putting together the proforma to make sure that we understand what the operating costs are. And so by incorporating really sound green building techniques, you’ll lower your operating expenses over time. And we know based on usage what those expenses would be.

Eric:
So. What? What do you expect that this will do to that area of Cleveland and,

Betsy:
You know, with the and Square Arts District launched, I think it was The New York Times. They said that it was like shock paddles to the economy. And I think it’s going to be the same thing. We are already getting inquiries for people that want to work with us. We are getting inquiries from businesses that want to relocate here or to set up an outpost in Lakewood. And this is only day two of our going public with this. So, yeah, I mean, it’s it’s going to be phenomenal for the city of Cleveland, for the city of Lakewood, in terms of the tax revenue. It’s going to be generated, both the sales tax revenue and, you know, all of the employee taxes that are being paid.

Betsy:
We’re hoping that we’re going to have the same effect that the Gordon Square arts district had on property values, which is only going to help the residents and also the city of Lakewood. And so it’s just it’s the culmination of a lot of these different factors that’s going to lift it up and to sustain it over time.

Betsy:
I’m confident.

Lady J:
And I would add to that that on the human personal side of this, I have had an outpouring of messages in my inbox since we announced the project of people who had dropped out of gay life or queer nightlife in Cleveland because they didn’t feel they created their own space and they create their own event. And people are like, hey, we might actually get to sit at the table again. And there’s a lot of people who are really excited about the possibility of working. You’re volunteering here, performing here, building their careers here. I think there’s that is a big part of what this contributes to the community as well. There’s opportunities for people who have not included and haven’t had a lot of those doors shut in their faces in other states.

Eric:
So how did this come about? How did this get envisioned?

Betsy:
So this was really Daniel’s vision. His his schooling is in economic development, urban planning, things like that. He has something ridiculous, like three degrees in urban planning. I can’t even keep track of it. And he’s always wanted to do something to give back to the community by using his skills to reinvest and should just make it better for the city of Cleveland and also for the LGBT community. So they’re together on the Astron mining projects. Is Danny OK? Yes. OK. Daniel and I partner together on the Astral On project and covered more than 50 percent of the cost of that with crap sources. Again, this is right in the middle of his wheelhouse and mine as well. He knew that he wanted to do a project like this. We knew that Lakewood has always been LGBT friendly. I’ve been in the city for 25 years now. And I’ve I’ve always known that, you know, we just don’t have a location like some of the other cities like Washington, D.C. or Columbus or Detroit or Boston. And, you know, it’s time. It’s time. We want to make sure that we are stopping any outmigration and we’re giving people a place to come just to relax and to have fun and to enjoy the nightlife and to, you know, go to school at North Coast College, which is the former Virginia Mardie school design and to have housing and just to have this community built around them. We want people to walk into these places and just say, wow, somebody really thought about what we wanted to see and how we wanted this to feel and how we feel ourselves being a part of this. And so after Daniel, that I realized that we could work well together and I have control issues. So it’s hard for me to kind of give up a portion of that. He and I realize together that collectively we really impactful. And so he started talking about this vision of a neighborhood. We knew that Lakewood was a very friendly place.

Betsy:
And, you know, the Phantasy was on the market a couple of years ago and we wanted to throw our hat in the ring. It just wasn’t the right to. What that afforded us was the opportunity to buy this other building ocurred avenue, to buy some of the state, to engage with all of these other community members, community groups, to make sure that we’re doing it from the beginning, doing it right from the beginning. And so I got excited about it. Daniel got excited.

Betsy:
And I have to tell you, you know, I’ve seen a ton of projects in my career and we’ve done to zero resistance. One hundred percent of the time people say to us, how can we help? How can we be a part of a part of this? Not, you know, you better watch out for this or that or, you know, good luck and we’ll. We’ll follow you along in this process.

Betsy:
They want to be engaged.

Eric:
Well, you know, these these things generate a lot of enthusiasm.

Betsy:
Sure

Eric:
And you have have a lot of potential.

Eric:
And as they as they start to come to fruition, hopefully that will that will continue.

Eric:
Let me ask you just a couple more questions about the other projects that are that are a little bit a little bit less exciting than the Phantasy entertainment complex, but that probably a lot more important to the overall success of the project, which which would be the first of all, the the warehouse at the field house studio.

Eric:
What do you do? What do you envision there?

Betsy:
We’re envisioning a Colombian style restaurant on the first floor, also an outdoor patio and ultimately a rooftop patio, which is really, really important for the LGBT community. Also, a landing pad, I think, is the term that freshwater use for different clubs. That’s like to play volleyball, dodgeball, whatever the case may be. And so it’s a four season into our field house. You know, hundreds of members within these different clubs, for instance, the Stonewall Sports Club is just one example. These are places this field house is a place where you could go in the morning, play some games, walk over to across the green space, to the restaurant to grab some lunch and a drink. And then in the afternoon, you know, maybe you’re walking down to Twist or some other venue where the Clifton Diner. And then you’re coming back to the Phantasy of the evening for some like you could spend almost all day here. So it is it’s exciting all the way around. And sure, there may be some elements that are less sexy, like wanting to put in a food clinic or clinic, a a health clinic and a food pantry and a policy. But, you know, my vision for this really is, you know, it’s it’s the teenager that isn’t necessarily accepted by their family that needs a safe place to land, to have a warm meal, to get some clean clothes, to have some people take them under their arms to make sure that they’re getting the right mental health services and the just general health clinic services and pharmacy services.

Betsy:
And they can walk over to the field, house, the restaurant and get a job with the other day, the LGBT.

Eric:
LGBTQ Center of Greater Cleveland is.

Betsy:
Fantastic.

Eric:
They are.

Betsy:
Phyllis, oh my gosh.

Eric:
They they are. They’re actually not very far physically from this maybe.

Betsy:
And that’s by sign up in my, ah, Detroit Avenue corridor.

Eric:
What what you’re what you’re describing, though, is a philanthropic enterprise that could that could be in competition with what the center does as a philanthropic. You know, I, I disagree with that.

Betsy:
And, you know, we brought Phyllis into the conversation really early on. The center is an amazing resource for the community. And they provide health services. They incubate small businesses. They reach out to the community. They are concerned about the LGBT seniors. Phyllis is a force. And what we all realize is that there is such a scarcity of resources, especially for LGBT projects, that we’re not going to be able to bring in new money. We’re going to be able to bring in money from the arts community, from the sports community, from the health and wellness community, from people that want to see places that LGBT youth can go and just be and to be safe. So this is going to be additives. And the foundation, the W1 17 Foundation, you know, they’ll have the ability to put money into programming. We’ve talked to the senator about using our buildings for their fundraising events. Phyllis was the very first donor to the West. One hundred and seventeen foundation. And that should tell you everything you need to know right there.

Eric:
Yes, it does.

Lady J:
I will definitely say that is on that one of the things that focusing on the project was Gilliss involvement. You know, it’s like, well, there is a school and then that that gets me in the door. And then I fell in love with everything else. Who’s on the board of the foundation.

Betsy:
So the president of the board is Lauren Tatum, and she is a small business owner, she owns Bunny Paige. So she’s a jewelry designer. She also does productions for different fashion shows. She’s done some work for Cirque de Soleil. So she’s the president. We have Suzanne Hamilton from Erie Bank. Ilah Atkins’, who is an attorney. And also Dan O’Malley, who is the president of the Lakewood City Council. He is on as a non-voting member.

Eric:
So.

Betsy:
So I want you to make sure that it’s clear that Daniel and I are not on the foundation.

Eric:
OK.

Betsy:
So we have to have some separation.

Eric:
So how do you get paid?

Betsy:
I’m sorry.

Eric:
How do you get paid?

Betsy:
Well, we’re not getting paid from the foundation. And right now we’re not looking for a return. So we’ve invested some of our money in it. We’re not taking any. We’re not taking any cash out of the currently cash flowing. Eleven six hundred building. We’re plowing that back into the neighborhood. You know, this is this is our investment for the long term. You know, we’ll come out whole, but we’re not looking to profit. That’s as strange as that may sound.

Eric:
Let me just let me just stop you there, because I know you are.

Eric:
You are both in this. This is your profession. This is how the two of you pay your bills. So that actually does sound like a very strange state.

Betsy:
Sure. But we also have our own businesses that we’re still running. I mean, I’m I put together financing for nonprofit for. Say, for 15 years, I’ll be closing five, six transactions in twenty 20 or so, you know, I’m self-made. I’m sufficient. I’m not looking for cash to come from this project.

Eric:
So… So obviously, there’s a profit side and a for profit earned a non-profit side to this. That foundation is the non-profit side. And some of the other investments are a for profit side. That’s correct. Yeah. And that those those kind of arrangements are always somewhat intriguing to me also because sometimes they they bleed on to one another. What what will be the responsibility of the for profit side of this in terms of in terms of money and what will be what will be the role of the non-profit side, the charitable side?

Betsy:
So Daniel and I are the developers and his company and my company, which we are sole proprietors on the different real estate holding companies. We are using the cash flow from the projects and also our own personal guarantees to get any debt that we need to guarantee for these projects. So we have cash in as our personal equity. We also have our names on the line as personal guarantors and. You know, we have to make our payments to the bank. So let’s use the example of the housing for for LGBT students. If they can’t afford six hundred dollars a month, but they could afford three hundred dollars a month, we could ask the foundation to secure for a year that three hundred dollar a month subsidy to help pay the banks mortgage for that obligation on that particular building. Similarly, on the Phantasy project, we have an LLC that is a for profit LLC. And if there is an entity, we’re not talking to an organization that is potentially looking at moving into the space, but we would need to build out the space to make it something pretty spectacular. And we would ask the foundation to help underwrite that. So we know that the tenants can’t necessarily fund these tenant improvements. And if the foundation is willing to direct some of the philanthropy to these different elements that help the different companies. Sure. It goes to the project, but it isn’t cash that we’re taking off the table. So the role of the developer is to make sure that we’re doing things that meet our mission, that meet the needs of the community that is safe and welcoming and exciting and holistic and is here for the long run.

Eric:
So that effort, other than subsidizing where necessary, the costs of of the of the people to use the facilities that are for profit side is developing.

Eric:
What then is the role for the for the charity, the foundation.

Betsy:
So the charity is also going to be able to invest money into programming. We’re gonna be able to have different speakers series. We’re looking to have an international drag residency program and maybe Lady J. You could talk about that. But we would love to have the foundation fund some of these programs to bring in people and to elevate Trag to the international art form that it deserves. Be.

Lady J:
Yeah, and so the international drag residency, I’ve been talking with a few different artists from around the world. I’m also in addition to this, I serve on the board of the Austin International Drag Festival, which is like a four day like five or six venue festival. And I’m their official historians. I teach drag history classes covering the last hundred and fifty years or so every year. I’ve done that for the last 40 years, five years. So what we’re going to be doing is bringing in drag artists from around the world and we’re going to have them teach classes that are relevant to what their particular skill set is, because all the Predrag are spring, all different kinds of particular skill sets, whether it’s makeup artistry, whether it’s costume design, whether it’s stage production, sort of you having them teach classes, or we’re going to have them work with our LGBTQ youth programs to do some ADRAC story time, but also to work on some projects with them. And then they’d also be performing in the space and we’d be having ideally we’d be having students from Virginia Mardie creating and working with them in in classes together, producing pieces that they could also take home. And so the art the students could also learn how to make custom pieces for custom high end pieces for m extremely eminent drag artists.

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