Church Will Be 'Reborn' As Condos

January 14, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The former Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 330 Crescent St. NE is about to undergo a sacred-to-secular transformation, from a place of worship into a residential condominium development tentatively named Renatus on the Hill — renatus being Latin for "rebirth."

Renatus LLC purchased the property last March. The investor group includes Kevin Moore, owner of Moore & Co.; his wife, Michelle Troseth, chief professional practice officer for CPM Resource Center; Mark Shaafsma, owner of Mark Schaafsma Design Build; and Duke De Leeuw of De Leeuw Lumber Co. of Holland.

Moore is the broker and developer's representative on the project.

Moore said all the new and ongoing development on Michigan Street hill encouraged Renatus LLC to purchase and adaptively reuse the property, which is less than a block from Spectrum Health's Butterworth campus and literally across the parking lot from Grand Valley State University's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. Walkability was a key issue, he said. 

Church-to-condo renovations are more common in Europe, and that's where Moore and Troseth found their inspiration for Bethlehem Lutheran's adaptive reuse.

"Some of these renovations are unbelievably striking," Moore remarked. "This will be unique to the United States and extremely unique to West Michigan."

The city approved the building for 16 condos but the current plan calls for 14, Moore said. He said construction will begin yet this winter. Every effort will be taken to preserve as much of the building's interior and neo-Gothic-style features as possible. The building bears a great architectural history, as well as the personal histories of all its previous members, some of whom had attended the church since the early 1930s, he said.

"We want to honor that history," Moore noted. "People were buried and married and baptized in that building, and we're being very cautious about maintaining the structural and historical integrity of it. First and foremost, our goal is to make sure the building is treated with the utmost respect and with a very light touch."

Besides the voluminous sanctuary and its basement-level parish hall, the structure has an attached educational wing that was added in the 1950s, so it has four levels altogether, he explained. There will be approximately 24,000 sellable square feet of space throughout the building. The building is "really beautiful" and, structurally, has "good bones," Moore said.

Each condo space will be unique: Some will be on one level and some will incorporate a couple of levels. Moore said plans for two units in the basement of the church call for brownstone-type entries on the north side of the building. In addition to some fencing, that's about all that will be changed on the building's exterior. However, Renatus is still refining project plans with the help of Lott3Metz and Think Design, so nothing is set in stone just yet. 

"From a historic standpoint, we're doing everything we possible can, and we're working very closely with the Historic Preservation Commission to make sure we touch this building very, very lightly," Moore said.

A few people have offered to buy the building from the Renatus group, but Moore said all they want to do is chop it up and make it "a regular cookie-cutter type" condo development.

"This is about creativity and honoring what the building has to give us," Moore added. "We want it to remain the venerable building that it is."

As presently planned, the smallest of the condos will be 790 square feet, while most of the units will range from 900 to 1,100 square feet, and a few will range from 1,300 to 1,400 square feet. Moore said pricing hasn't been set, but he thinks the smallest unit will be in excess of $200,000. The sanctuary will house several larger, multi-level units that, under the current plan, will range from 2,500 to 5,500 square feet.

Two of the condos in the sanctuary will have a private elevator. All of them will have living rooms that feature the building's original stained glass windows. The largest and most unique unit will incorporate the church bell tower and the stairwell that winds up to the choir loft and will have a living room in the rafters on the third floor that's dominated by an 18- by seven-foot stained glass window.

The Renatus group is intent on preserving as many of building's elements as possible. For instance, while there won't be much use for the church pews, the group is looking at the possibility of using the carved designs on the ends of the pews for exterior door treatments and other things, he said.

"We're trying to creatively reuse all the architectural elements inside the church but also adaptively update the space itself to where it's something that's very modern and very high-tech in services, and really high quality," Moore said.

The city approved a variance request for a 23-space parking lot in the church's former playground area on the south edge of the building. Moore said Renatus is considering ways it might lessen the impact the partial parking structure will have on the surrounding neighborhood.

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