From the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 to the Club Q massacre in Colorado Springs last November, the need for safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community is perhaps more necessary than ever. A safe, inclusive and affirming space for the LGBTQ+ community is exactly what developers are hoping Studio West 117 will bring to Cleveland.
In Lakewood, Ohio, just a few miles west of Cleveland, Studio West 117 opened a walkable multi-use space called the Fieldhouse in October. It’s the first of a three-phase development process to culminate in a more than 300,000-square-foot community complex featuring a collection of sports, dining, entertainment and housing alongside identity-affirming businesses and social services. Current retail tenants include a resale store that focuses on trans-specific and gender-affirming clothing, an LGBTQ+ minority and women-owned barbershop, a podcast studio, and a maker’s market.
The Fieldhouse brings the first 30,000 square feet of the complex to life with its three restaurants, a gym, demonstration kitchen, community garden, outdoor courtyard, a rooftop patio, event spaces, and more. The thriving Cleveland chapter of Stonewall Sports, an LGBTQ+ community-based sports league, brings dodgeball and other sports to the mix while the restaurants and event spaces host salsa nights and drag bunches. Spin instructor Nathan David’s Everybody Cycle brings spinning classes to the complex.
David, who identifies as a gay man, says he saw a natural connection between his business that’s designed to make spinning as inclusive as possible and Studio West 117’s mission of creating spaces where LGBTQ+ people can be themselves and feel free and safe. So he reached out to the developers, Daniel Budish and Betsy Figgie, through the project’s website earlier this year.
“A lot of times when people go to a fitness class, the message is ‘you need to be different, you need to look different,’” David says. “My primary message is ‘just how you are is perfectly ideal.’ It’s about connecting with each other, moving and feeling good, not changing who we are.”
David is currently teaching three classes a week in the Fieldhouse. But once the renovated Phantasy Entertainment Complex, previously home to a revered nightclub of the same name, and its storefronts are complete, David’s business will move into a leased space there.
“It’s a great opportunity, almost like a little incubator, for me to grow at a lower risk,” David says. “They’re allowing me to do things as a contractor to grow into an established business.” Unlike other studios that would typically ban instructors like David from directly communicating with customers and using their own branding, he’s able to do exactly that at Studio West 117. “That’s why it’s a perfect partnership — they’re allowing me to do that and grow,” he says.
This is exactly the kind of support that Budish, who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, always hoped to provide in his ambitions to become, as he puts it, a developer with a conscience. He came to development by way of urban planning, eventually developing a specialty in working with historic tax credits, subsidies designed to incentivize the restoration of historic buildings.
After working with Figgie on a tax credit-funded project in 2018, the two realized they could team up on a project that would “benefit the LGBTQ+ community here, which has not been invested in the way it should be,” Budish says. His vision is for the project to anchor what he hopes will one day become an LGBTQ+ neighborhood that rivals those in other cities, like San Francisco’s Castro.
“The various components of the project were based on listening sessions with the community and understanding what the needs are,” Budish says. For example, “there was no place that was really focusing on developing our drag entertainers.”
It was important that the space didn’t just center around partying and alcohol, hence the sports and fitness-focused aspects. “We have a very active [Stonewall Sports] Cleveland chapter. We wanted to create a space where Stonewall Sports could come and play dodgeball and other sports because those are big draws. So we created this gym space where these sporting events can take place,” he says. The hope is that if sports bring crowds in, the dining and entertainment options will keep them there.
With Lakewood undergoing gentrification for many years now, Budish says keeping costs affordable for both businesses and future residents is a key consideration. Through a combination of tax credits like the federal New Markets Tax Credit and keeping the buildings in Budish and Figgie’s ownership, Budish hopes to be able to “make those apartments affordable for the long-term.”
Beyond the opportunity to grow his business, David is excited about the development that he sees as having a lot to offer the LGBTQ+ community. “I had felt the lack of a centralized home for the LGBTQ+ community in Cleveland,” he says. “It’s sad when someone comes to visit and they’re like, ‘Where should we go?’ and there’s not that one specific spot for our community.”
Studio West 117 is aiming to be exactly that.
Cinnamon Janzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, Rewire.news, and more. She holds an MA in Social Design, with a specialization in intervention design, from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.