Willie Howard , Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
LAKE WORTH — This city already enjoys a reputation as the closest thing to Key West in Palm Beach County: an older, walkable, waterfront city with an active music and arts scene that is known as a haven for gays.
City officials raise the rainbow-colored gay pride flag at city hall in March to mark PrideFest, when gays and lesbians march in a parade along Lake Avenue to Bryant Park. Lake Worth is home to the Compass Community Center, considered the Southeast’s largest center for gays and lesbians.
But some members of its gay community think Lake Worth needs more gays. Just before PrideFest in March, Roger Hendrix and about 10 others kicked off Gay Lake Worth, a campaign launched on Facebook to make the city “the next Gayborhood.”
Why? They believe an influx of gays from more expensive places such as Key West and Fort Lauderdale will boost property values.
Despite a recent uptick in median home prices in Lake Worth, Hendrix said he and many other homeowners are upside down in their homes, meaning they owe more on their mortgages than they could sell their homes for.
The idea that gays would move in and fix up homes is a stereotype, Compass CEO Tony Plakas said, but he said it is well documented and not disparaging.
City Commissioner Andy Amoroso, a member of the group that kicked off the Gay Lake Worth campaign, recalls a neighbor’s reaction when he moved into his house in the Mango Groves neighborhood.
”She said, ‘I’m so glad you moved in. You people do such good work,’’’ Amoroso said. “I took it as a compliment.”
City Finance Director Steve Carr and his partner, Terry Ralston, fell in love with Lake Worth during PrideFest two years ago. They built a house in a historic neighborhood on North Palmway.
Hendrix, a manufacturers’ representative who moved to Lake Worth from Nashville, Tenn., with his partner in 2009, said more gays would be drawn there if they knew what it has to offer.
Art, architecture and affordability are key assets that should attract more gays into Lake Worth, Hendrix said during an interview on the stylish back porch of his home on North Lakeside Drive.
In a written summary of Lake Worth’s gay-attracting assets, Hendrix cited the “affordable, artsy, tropical-style homes within walking distance of the beach” as well as the Lake Worth Playhouse, the presence of Compass, “Southern charm,” winter beach bonfires, pet-friendly parks and the Sunday tea dances for gays and lesbians at The Cottage bar.
Other residents’ favorable attitude toward gays and the size of the city’s gay community are other selling points, said Orlando Fernandez, who owns residences in the city.
”It ties in with the whole marketing and rebranding of the city,” Commissioner Suzanne Mulvehill said of the Gay Lake Worth campaign. “Being a diverse and accepting community is one of our assets.”