Construction manager, architect picked for Lear conversion

TRAVERSE CITY – When you think of a "church," what comes to mind? Perhaps a grand steeple and a cross, surrounded by ornate stained glass? You probably don't think of a large industrial building. But that is exactly what one Traverse City church plans on turning into its place of worship.

In late January, Faith Reformed Church purchased the former Lear Corporation building on South Airport Road for $1.85 million. The building had been vacant for almost four years.

"A lot of people were surprised to hear that a church had bought the building," says Senior Pastor Peter Semeyn, who heads the Protestant church. "It has a prison look and feel. But when we're done with the renovations, it will be a warm and inviting place."

Church leaders hope to start construction on the multi-million dollar project next spring, with an estimated completion date of Easter 2010. The architectural firm responsible for the transformation is Goss Pasma Bloomquist of Evanston, Ill. Semeyn says Faith Reformed chose this group because of its experience with turning industrial and commercial facilities into ministry centers.

The Christman Company, a national firm with a Traverse City office, is the construction manager and is currently working with the architect on the design. When they get to the construction phase, open bids will be let, Semeyn added.

When the project began, fundraising consultants told the church it could safely raise $4 million. The church decided to set a goal of $6 million. To date, parishioners have pledged $6.6 million.

Semeyn says the church decided to buy the Lear property when it became obvious the current locations were running out of space. Currently around 1,100 parishioners belong to Faith Reformed, and church leaders expect membership to grow.

"The new location is perfect because it provides the size the congregation needs, and is in a centralized location in the heart of Grand Traverse County," he said.

"I think some people are intimidated by the traditional church look," he added. "We like to step out of the box a bit."

Along with office space for its 30 employees, the new building will have an 800-seat auditorium, a commercial-sized kitchen, a high-tech media studio, and coffee shop.

"This isn't just a place you stop by on Sunday morning, it's a community center," Semeyn noted. "We are not here only to serve our parishioners, but also the community."

He adds that the building will serve as a centralized location for social service organizations.

"We hope to have representatives from organizations such as Michigan Works, Father Fred, and the Goodwill Inn all under one roof so that people don't have to run all over town to get assistance."

The revitalized Lear building will also be the main hub for the church's three campuses.

The church's original location is on Front Street next to the Campus Plaza. It has five buildings on five acres and includes a ministry center, a family life center, a youth center, and two other multi-use buildings. Developers have offered up to $1.6 million for part of the property, but church leaders say it's not for sale.

A second building, located behind Borders at the Grand Traverse Crossing Development, was built two years ago, adding 6,000 square feet of ministry space.

Currently, live preaching occurs on Front Street, with a live simulcast to the Youth Center (also on Front). When the new building is completed, live preaching will also take place there.

"It's a movement called multi-site ministry," says Semeyn. "Each service will be different and have its own style. We want to give people options."

For more information go to: www.frchurch.org.

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