A version of this story was printed in the August 2016 issue of Park Cities People, in which we reported UP City Council had approved HPUMC’s development plans. At press deadline, this information was confirmed by a UP official. That confirmation was later retracted. The story below has been revised and rewritten by the editorial staff to reflect the accurate information.
University Park City Council is set to vote on Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC)’s plans to raze and rebuild its 23-year-old Biggers Activities Building on Hillcrest Avenue sometime in August.
The vote was originally set for July 19, but was postponed at the request of HPUMC. According to an email from the director of communications Mary Wilson, the church’s zoning consultant noticed an error in the proposed ordinance during the previous council meeting July 5.
If their plans are approved, HPUMC will replace the current structure with a new, much larger family activities center.
“The existing building doesn’t fit into our church and it doesn’t contribute to the neighborhood. It was just a gym and a youth center and unfortunately, it’s not been utilized ever to its capacity,” Dallas Cothrum, of Masterplan Consulting and HPUMC, said at the June 7 city council meeting.
Cothrum said one of his friends had told him the current building looked like “something the Soviets built and left here.”
The new building will still have a gym and a youth center, but it will resemble the rest of the HPUMC campus, with gothic features and a bold front door.
At 62,263 square feet, the new building will be almost three times larger than the existing structure, according to UP Community Development Department Director Patrick Baugh.
Not that he expects them to need all that space: “This facility is not planned to be a heavily used facility in terms of occupant load,” Baugh said. Monday through Friday activities will be “maybe maxed out around 60 people, 75 people. And then on Sunday afternoons, maybe 208, maybe a few more than that for morning for worship service,” Baugh said at the June 7 meeting.
“The Biggers Building was done in a different time when the church, they couldn’t exploit all the benefits of zoning that they have,” Cothrum said. “We tried to work on this, and tried to learn some lessons about how the Park Cities YMCA case went, and we really wanted to avoid neighbors being upset.”
Opposition from neighors, including the Shenandoah Place Condominium Association, the Normandy Place Homeowner’s Association, and others, was short-lived. Many of their concerns about construction traffic safety, blocked driveways, and existing parking issues were allayed prior to the meeting, said opposition representative John Flowers, who told the council that Cothrum “showed me a compromise they had worked out which meets all of the issues that I had raised in my letter which I sent you all, and we are satisfied with it.”
In response to the neighbors’ requests, the church is pledging to constrain the construction staging area to the Biggers site and the trucks to a space equal in size to three 65-foot semi trucks on the Hillcrest side. The trucks will also not be allowed to idle or park north of Normandy Avenue during the construction period, Cothrum said. All workers must go through background checks and wear badges.
“The Shenandoah Place people deserve that, because we understand that they live there,” Cothrum said. “We know we have to handle our construction traffic from our site and make it work.”
The new family activity center, which is anticipated to be three stories high (65 feet) at the highest point, will include special needs classrooms and facilities, a floor serving families and youth (seventh through 12th grade), and a recreational gym at the top. Two levels of underground parking will include 135 spots to aid in overflow from HPUMC’s main campus on Sunday mornings.
The changes will benefit the special needs population most, according to Rev. Matt Tuggle, HPUMC’s Director of Family Ministries, and include dedicated parking in the garage and a “hotel-like” designated drop-off area. New activities may include cooking and computer classes, and art and music therapy, Tuggle said in an email.
“The goal is to have the best special needs facility in the state,” Cothrum said.
There will be a worship space on the third floor, but Cothrum stressed this was not going to be used for another large Sunday service or big conferences, but rather as a flex space for the community and performance space for the church’s special needs Jesters Theatre program.
The church is now soliciting bids from general contractor candidates, Tuggle said. HPUMC plans to launch a capital campaign in early 2017 to pay for construction, which is planned to take 18 to 24 months.
“We are a part of our community and believe this facility will help us to be a blessing for generations to come,” Tuggle said.