UCC Church House for sale in Cleveland; offices moving to leased space nearby
Citing a new era of hybrid staff work and a continued focus on mission, the United Church of Christ has put its Cleveland office building up for sale. Its staff will soon move to another downtown space.
After more than 30 years at 700 Prospect Ave., the church will move its national ministry offices to the AECOM building, 1300 E. 9th St. If all goes as planned, the offices will open there in January 2022, said the Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president.
The church has listed the nine-story, 120,000-square-foot Prospect Avenue building for sale for $7 million.
Pattern for the future
The move is part of the church’s ongoing efforts to “carefully steward our precious missional resources,” Dorhauer said. He said the size of the national staff — less than half what it was in the 1990s — is one factor.
“Making this move saves the National Setting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by leasing one floor rather than maintaining a nine-story building that once housed 330 employees,” Dorhauer said.
Before the arrival of COVID-19, “we were going to remodel the interior space at 700 Prospect for 117 employees,” Dorhauer said. Then, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the church closed the building. Staff members worked from home — and did so productively, he said. In early 2021, church leaders surveyed the staff about their post-COVID preferences.
The result: “With the combination of work-from-home and hybrid styles, fewer than a third of our staff will be in the building at one time,” Dorhauer said. “We don’t see that pattern changing much in the future.”
The decision to sell the building “also reduces stress,” he said. “We won’t carry the time drain of being the landlord and caretaker of an office building.”
How decisions were made
COVID added impetus, but the decisions did not come suddenly.
As Yvette Wynn — then chair of the United Church of Christ Board — put it earlier this year, property and space needs were a recurring topic of board discussion “for some time” before the pandemic. Questions about the future of the Church House “needed to be addressed and were under prayerful consideration,” she said. Among them were “costs of maintaining the building at nearly $1 million per year” and “significant deferred maintenance.”
In late 2020, she appointed an office-space task force to focus on the national setting’s “dynamic and changing needs.” It was made up of leaders from several settings of the denomination, including participants from its financial ministries. The team reported to the board in the spring of 2021.
On July 1, the board authorized Dorhauer to list the Church House for sale “if analysis warrants.” He did so in August. The Board also empowered him “to review, select and lease a new office space in Cleveland.” “Local real estate market information … presented us with significant advantages and opportunities for leased space as a result of the pandemic,” Wynn said.
Traditional and shared work spaces
At its new site, the church has signed a 15-year lease to rent 30,000 square feet of space. Most of that, for mission offices, will be on the 11th floor. The church will also have basement space for its archives and UCC Resources.
All Cleveland-based offices of the church’s four Covenanted Ministries will move to the new space. They are Justice and Witness Ministries, Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries, and the Office of the General Minister and President. Two other UCC-related agencies currently at 700 Prospect, the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries and the Open and Affirming Coalition, will also move to the AECOM building.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister, is leading a design team for the new space. She said the team — including staff members from all the Covenanted Ministries — has created “a state-of-the-art, open-floor workspace that will invite imaginative collaboration of a work force that may engage differently in our post-COVID reality.”
In addition to traditional offices, the floor will include other kinds offices and work stations — with varied sharing arrangements — to meet staff members’ differing needs and schedules. Some will be “hotel” offices — available to be reserved, like a hotel room, by any staff member who needs one. “There will be lots of open space with soft seating and huddle rooms designed for small-group collaboration across ministries,” Blackmon said. “This will allow staff to shift environments during the day to increase mental wellness options and cross-ministry communication.”
“The layout also maximizes exposure for all staff to natural lighting,” she said, and it will include relaxation spaces, a “worship/meditative room,” “resource nooks” with frequently used materials and full accessibility to people with disabilities. “We have included a recording studio with state-of-the-art equipment to continue to enhance our virtual presence,” she said.
The team is “connecting this new beginning to our powerful past,” she said, by incorporating “elements of our journey, gathered from every location that has ever housed the national staff.”
Amistad Chapel deliberations
Indeed, the Amistad Chapel, on the ground floor at 700 Prospect, is high on the church’s handle-with-care list.
Dedicated in 2000, the chapel was imagined by architects — members of UCC churches — who were invited in the 1990s to think about sacred space in the building. The result was a worship and meeting place whose furniture, lighting, artwork and floor plan are rich in UCC faith, history and symbolism. It especially conveys the story of the Amistad rebellion of 1839. Captives aboard a schooner mutinied against human traffickers — and were eventually aided in their freedom fight by ancestors of today’s UCC.
“We remain in prayerful discernment over Amistad Chapel, as we determine how best to honor and preserve the significance of this beloved space in our denomination,” Dorhauer said. “We would love to create continuity by transferring aspects and architectural gems of that sacred space to our new location.”
Church House evolution
The chapel was part of an even larger expansion and remodeling project. This occurred in the years after the UCC bought 700 Prospect from the Ohio Bell Telephone Company for $5.2 million in 1989 and moved its offices there from New York City in 1990.
Led by the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the work began with the construction of a hotel on a parking lot behind 700 Prospect. It opened in 1998, with a courtyard and curving corridor connecting it to the office building. The entire complex — including the “Meeting House” conference room along that corridor — came to be known as the Church House. UCC people and partners from around the world were housed and fed there during frequent governing body and other meetings — and worshiped in the chapel.
But, as Dorhauer put it, the church’s national staff and governance structure have both “grown considerably smaller through the years.” With them, so has the need for office and meeting space.
In 2019, the church sold the hotel — known for years as the Radisson Hotel at Gateway (now Hotel Indigo) — for $7.5 million.
Questions are invited
Dorhauer and Blackmon will discuss the move – and take questions via Zoom’s Q&A feature – during a live “Thursdays for the Soul” presentation Sept. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EDT. People can register here.
Staff members — almost all of whom continue to work remotely for now — are making staggered visits to 700 Prospect this fall to prepare for the transition. They’re removing personal items and attending to what needs to be archived or digitized.
A farewell service in the chapel will be scheduled before the move.
And while there’s some sadness about leaving a space so filled with memories of faith and work, moving to leased space “makes great sense to us as stewards,” Dorhauer said. “It will free up precious resources to help fund our mission.”
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