Chicago’s got Boystown. San Francisco has The Castro. Los Angeles has West Hollywood. And soon Cleveland will have a “gayborhood” to call its own.
With a multi-phased opening through 2022, Studio West will cover nearly 100,000 square feet of real estate on the border of Lakewood and Cleveland—offering the local LGBT community a central gathering place to live, work, shop, and play.
Founded on the pillars of intersectionality and inclusivity, the project is designed to create a thriving LGBT ecosystem in Cleveland.
“A lot of other cities have a neighborhood for their LGBT community,” says co-developer Daniel Budish. “Because Cleveland doesn’t really have anything like that right now, we’re trying to use this project to catalyze the creation of such an area through a single project.”
Betsy Figgie, Daniel Budish, and drag performer Dr. Lady JBudish and co-developer Betsy Figgie first began acquiring real estate in February and will complete the trifecta in July when they close on the Phantasy Entertainment Complex (for which they hope to obtain a National Register of Historic Places designation). The Studio West hub will be comprised of three properties:
- A 16,000-square-foot former warehouse at 1384 Hird Ave., which will become The Fieldhouse at Studio West. Set to open summer 2021, the facility will house a gym that offers fitness classes, all-season dodgeball and volleyball leagues, and open gym rentals—as well as a landing pad for the Stonewall Sports community in Cleveland. Also on-site will be a restaurant and sports bar helmed by Barroco’s Juan Vergara.
- A mixed-use building with eight apartment units and five commercial storefronts located at 11600 Detroit Ave. Though the building is currently fully occupied by existing tenants (such as My Friends restaurant), the spaces will likely shift over time to include a larger LGBT presence. When space does open, Budish and Figgie plan to reserve apartments for LGBT youth, seniors, and students, as well as creating a residency of sorts for visiting drag performers. “We fully embrace the tenants we have today, but if and when they choose to vacate, then we will repurpose into other uses,” explains Figgie.
- The 55,000-square-foot Phantasy Entertainment Complex at 11802 Detroit Ave. The former live music venue will house six entertainment destinations, as well as several ground-floor retail spaces, a podcasting studio, and a coworking space. Envisioned as a hub for nightlife, drag shows, live music, and other entertainment, the space will offer a much-needed central spot for social interaction and activity—one that Budish says Cleveland hasn't had at such a scale since Bounce closed in 2017.
It's an ambitious footprint, but Budish and Figgie feel confident about stepping into it. “We wanted to acquire enough property to really be able to make a difference in terms of catalyzing investment and creating a new walkable community,” says Budish. “Our goal was to acquire properties in the W. 117th corridor, which is already home to several LBGT-owned and –friendly businesses.”
In bringing the project to fruition, Budish and Figgie will call on their collective real estate experience with historic tax credits and city financing (Budish) and new markets and non-traditional funding sources (Figgie). Most recently, they worked together on the $14 million Astrup arts complex project in Clark-Fulton.
"Together we were able to cover more than half of the costs for that project with free money," says Figgie. "For the balance of the project, we didn’t use any conventional banks, so we found some very low-cost capital, which made the project affordable to non-profit tenants. We realized we had something really good going on [with our partnership and shared expertise]."
Drag performers Dr. Lady J and Murray HillBuoyed by Figgie's and Budish's strong track record, the Studio West project's promise has attracted a number of important local allies, including the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland; Plexus LGBT and Allied Chamber of Commerce; the City of Lakewood; North Coast College; and many more. Also coming on board as Studio West "house mother" is Virginia West, who is well-known for her Stadium Virginium shows in Columbus and has raised over two millions dollars for charity through drag shows and other charitable events.
And the most beautiful thing of all? The project has come together with remarkable ease.
"We haven’t run into any resistance anywhere. We’ve met with hundreds of people, hundreds of in-person tours, and we haven’t heard one person say this won’t be received well," says Figgie. "Hands down, it’s been nothing but full support. Everything that has happened so far with this project has been pure kismet."