Former Church To Begin Its 'Rebirth'

November 5, 2008
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The former Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 330 Crescent St. NE in Grand Rapids will undergo a sacred-to-secular transformation beginning this winter, from a place of worship into a residential condominium development named Renatus on the Hill — renatus being Latin for “rebirth.”

The investor group, Renatus LLC, has tweaked its original plans somewhat since the project was unveiled in January, but the group continues to make every effort to preserve as much of the building’s interior and neo-Gothic-style features as possible. Over the past several months, Renatus has changed the layout of the units and nixed a 23-space surface parking lot in favor of a 33-space, two-level parking structure, the lower level of which will be underground. 

“It fits the scale of the building a lot better,” said Kevin Moore, broker on the project and a member of the Renatus LLC. Renatus purchased the property in March 2007. Investors include Moore’s wife, Michelle Troseth, chief professional practice officer for CPM Resource Center; Mark Schaafsma, owner of Mark Schaafsma Design Build; and Duke De Leeuw of De Leeuw Lumber Co. of Holland.

Besides a voluminous 45-foot sanctuary and basement-level parish hall, the structure has an attached educational wing that was added in the 1950s, so it has four levels altogether. There will be approximately 24,000 sellable square feet of space throughout the building.

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. 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, original woodwork and high ceilings.

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-7-foot stained glass window. The bell tower unit, Moore said, will be the only one of its kind in North America.

Condos will be available in one- two- and three-bedroom units of 815 square feet up to 3,500 square feet, and will range in price from $240,000 to $1 million-plus. One interested party, in fact, is looking at 7,000 square feet, which would incorporate two units and add up to about $1.6 million. By late September, the group was working with three potential buyers.  Renatus also held a couple of “soft opening” events and received a lot of compliments on the project and its uniqueness from the real estate community, he said. 

“This will be a very high-tech old building,” Moore said. “Everything in it will be new, and the units will be highly customizable. We also have saved a ton of historical and architectural items that can be worked back into the units at the request of owners.”

The building bears a great architectural history as well as the personal histories of all its previous members, Moore said, and Renatus intends to honor that history by being very cautious in maintaining the building’s structural and historical integrity.

Working with the Historical Preservation Committee and city planning commission, the Renatus was able to secure a number of outdoor spaces so units will now have outdoor space in the form of single or shared patios with landscaped grounds. One of the three units on the upper level will have a Parisian balcony and the other two will have a balcony coupled with a rooftop deck.

“The Historic Preservation Commission was great. They actually came out and partnered with us: We bounced ideas off them and they bounced ideas off of us. We ended up getting really, really livable changes to the units themselves.”

Moore said all the new and ongoing development on Michigan Street hill encouraged Renatus 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 of Health Sciences. Walkability was a key issue, he said. 

“We want to work with all the stakeholders in that area for the betterment of the neighborhood,” Moore added.

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 those renovations in Europe are unbelievably striking,” Moore remarked. “Renatus on the Hill will be unique to the United States and extremely unique to West Michigan.”

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