Noozhawk: For WEV, New Downtown Home a ‘Game-Changer’

Third floor of El Centro building in Santa Barbara gives the organization much-needed elbow room to expand its services and programming

Women’s Economic Ventures hosted an open house on Tuesday, welcoming community partners to its new, expanded operation in the historic El Centro building in downtown Santa Barbara.

“WEV has been looking for a new facility for many years,” said CEO Kathy Odell, noting that WEV’s offices for 18 years on the Lower Eastside were woefully inadequate.

“We needed space that would house our dedicated and growing staff, offer a modern training facility to accommodate both in-person and remote learning, provide shared workspace for clients and business advisers, and that allowed us to host speaker series, webinars and community events.”

WEV was able to satisfy those diverse needs by leasing the entire third floor of the El Centro building, at 21 E. Canon Perdido next to the Lobero Theatre.

Built in 1927, the Spanish-style El Centro building was once the center of Santa Barbara’s Chinatown, housing a Chinese Masonic Temple on the ground floor, now occupied by Sevtap Winery.

WEV’s 3,200-square-foot space was recently renovated, providing the nonprofit microenterprise development organization with more than double its previous square footage, a convenient downtown location and room to grow.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Ashley Goldstein, WEV’s learning solutions manager. “We can now offer clients a safer, central downtown location with ample parking.”

“One of the things I have to point out is the light,” Odell said, noting that the old office on South Salinas Street had only two windows.

The new space includes open work areas designed by Smart Office Interiors and equipped with ergonomic desks, a small kitchen, restrooms and the heart of the community center — a renovated racquetball court that serves as a large, flexible meeting, event and training space.

Although WEV has been in its new home for only a couple of weeks, the community center, with its state-of-the-art digital capabilities, has already gotten a lot of use. It served as the site for a recent board meeting and enabled a Boston-based presenter to share knowledge from afar.

The remote capabilities should prove especially beneficial for many of WEV’s working-mom clients who often need greater flexibility to Zoom from home.

“For 17 years, not one of our staff had a new desk,” Odell said. “We shared mismatched furniture, and we had limited IT capability with no option for upgrades.

“We literally had to do something to fulfill our mission.”

That mission — to cultivate the power within each woman to realize her dreams and achieve financial independence — resonates with a growing segment of the population.

Typically, WEV assists an average of 350 clients per year; last year, the organization served more than 1,000 budding business owners.

“Our capabilities to serve the local community have increased dramatically thanks to this new space,” said Nikki Parr, director of strategy, programs and services. “We can geographically reach more clients, and we will be expanding programming to offer more in-person and online courses.”

Other nonprofit organizations also will benefit from the community center, which Odell said will be available to those seeking meeting space.

“You need the feeling that you are in a community of people who care,” she said. “If you ask any WEV client what was most important to them, it is this feeling of being with other business owners sharing stories, learning from one another and offering peer-to-peer support.”

Since 1991, WEV has provided services to nearly 19,000 people (predominantly women and minorities) throughout the Central Coast, helping start or expand more than 5,500 local businesses and support nearly 12,000 local jobs.

WEV is a business resource network for anyone looking to start, grow or improve a local business. It provides dual language small business training, advisory support, financial literacy programs and loan services.

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