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Dave Olson, Published June 07 2013

Area church buildings hit market as some congregations look to downsize

FARGO - This past winter was a tough one for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

After limping along for years, the heating system in the century-old building at 670 4th Ave. N. started having major issues. It was only with help from furnace experts who donated some of their labor that the church was able to keep the heat on.

St. Mark’s made it to spring, but it may not remain a church much longer.

Congregation members who have concerns about a number of issues, including the cost of keeping up a space much larger than they need, have put the building up for sale.

“Our beautiful building has served for many decades as a place for worship, learning, hospitality, healing, gathering and shelter for the congregation and for others,” said Elna Solvang, president of the church council.

However, “Our building has been of concern for many years, in part because it is not physically accessible,” she said. “It also needs maintenance, care and updating that are not within the financial resources of our small congregation.”

St. Mark’s is located near a part of downtown booming with redevelopment.

Church members sought potential partners in recent years, including nonprofit organizations, to help redevelop the building for multiple uses, but nothing materialized – another factor in the decision to sell.

What becomes of St. Mark’s the building remains to be seen, but the congregation plans to stick around, Solvang said.

“We don’t yet know where we will go, but we believe the inclusive ministry of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is needed and has a future in this community,” she said.

The church property sits on four lots that total 49,000 square feet. The building, which was built in 1912, encompasses 29,400 square feet of space.

An online listing puts the asking price at $779,000.

The land is zoned downtown mixed use, meaning it could be used for housing, retail stores or offices, said Jay Nelson, an agent with Konrad Olson Commercial Real Estate, the company working with St. Mark’s to sell the property.

St. Mark’s is one of two churches the Konrad Olson agency is working on selling; the other is the Christian Science Church at 23 9th St. S.

Built in 1914, the church has 5,632 square feet of space and the lot is 11,000 square feet.

The asking price is $279,000.

The Christian Science Church, built in the Greek rival architectural style, is in Fargo’s Renaissance Zone. It means redevelopment could possibly qualify for tax incentives.

The church has been on the market more than a year and attracted a potential buyer last summer who was interested in making a deal. In the end, it didn’t happen, said Robyne Williams, chairwoman of the church board.

Williams said members of the congregation love the building, but decided it didn’t meet their needs.

“We’re hoping it does meet someone else’s needs,” she said.

She said church members want to move into a smaller building, but that won’t happen until the church is sold.

Williams said some of the attractive aspects of the building are its wonderful acoustics and theater-style seating.

Third church for sale

In addition to St. Mark’s and Christian Science churches, the Edgewood United Methodist Church is for sale, according to a large sign posted outside the building at 3000 Elm Street N.

Edgewood moved its Sunday services to First United Methodist Church at 906 1st Ave. S. last fall after a mold problem caused by flooding was discovered.

It’s unknown to what degree the mold issue influenced the decision to put the church up for sale because messages left on the church’s answering machine were not returned.

What’s a church worth

To help determine an asking price for St. Mark‘s and the Christian Science churches, Nelson researched sales of churches in Fargo going back to about 1985.

He said of the half-dozen or so transactions he found, most involved new congregations buying a church to use as a house of worship.

The St. Mark’s location near downtown broadens the possibilities of what can happen there, he said.

The property is already a money maker when it comes to parking.

The church rents out about 87 of its estimated 100 parking spaces, which at $42 per month per spot means about $3,600 a month in revenues for the church, or $43,200 a year.

A new use?

Nelson said St. Mark’s and the Christian Science Church have garnered interest from potential buyers.

“They’ve got the type of architectural detail you don’t see in a lot of newer, modern office buildings,” he said.

But repurposing a church raises a question: What can be done with them if they aren’t used for worship?

That was the big question several years ago in Rothsay, Minn., when the congregations of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and Hamar Lutheran Church decided to merge and build a new church called New Life Lutheran.

The buildings that housed Our Savior’s and Hamar Lutheran were put up for sale.

Hamar Lutheran was purchased by a Rothsay-area family that uses it for large gatherings.

Finding a new use for Our Savior’s Lutheran was more problematic, said Roberta Ouse, who helped coordinate the church merger and work out the building issues that came with it.

Ouse said the city eventually took ownership of the Our Saviors building and sold it to a group called PARTNERS, which stands for “People Around Rothsay That Need Extra Routine Services.”

Attic Thrift store, which is in the former church, supports PARTNERS, which provides services for seniors and aims to help them stay in their homes for as long as possible.

Ouse said finding new uses for the former churches took a lot of effort, but in the end, “it was really rewarding.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555