UCC leader reviewing Cleveland workspace options for national staff
In this letter to the wider church, the UCC General Minister and President shares plans to review future work environment options for the denomination’s national staff.
To Covenant Partners of the United Church of Christ,
One of the most important responsibilities of the National Setting of the United Church of Christ is the faithful stewardship of resources entrusted to us for the sake of our shared mission. Since before my election in 2015, serious questions have been asked about the two pieces of property we owned at the time: the Radisson Hotel and 700 Prospect. When I entered office, there was a serious offer to buy both buildings. For a variety of reasons, that deal did not go through. Nonetheless, we continued to evaluate our investment in these properties.
As you know, the hotel was sold two years ago.
Since then, we have been discerning whether to continue to invest in the office space we own, or pursue other options. As General Minister and President, I have been clear from the start that the decision would always be a question of good stewardship – and that we would not make any decision that would compromise the ability of our very talented staff to function at the highest levels of performance.
Conditions have changed dramatically since this discernment began. When I entered, we were a staff one third the size of the original staff that occupied the building when we moved in 30 years earlier. The building has aged, and is at this point in time in need of known renovations somewhere in the $7 million range. Just knowing those two facts raised for us serious questions about good stewardship: can we justify remaining in a building we have grown too small for AND invest $7 million to stay in it?
Two options are being considered: stay or go. Both options are very much on the table – and both require a good deal of forethought to discern which, as good stewards, make the most sense. I want to be clear – whether we stay or go, we remain in the greater Cleveland area, most likely in the downtown corridor.
To stay, good stewardship mandates that we find a way to monetize empty space in the building. To go would require the sale of the building and finding a space more amenable to our current need.
If we stay, we will still need to make significant upgrades to the building, move our staff onto fewer floors, and monetize the open spaces we create by doing that. After working with a local architectural firm, we estimate those improvement costs to be around $7 million. This makes sense if we can reduce our internal footprint and maximize the open space we create for rental to outside partners. Two floors are currently fully remodeled and occupied by covenant partners who are leasing space with us.
Staff surveys revealed that only four of our 75 employees who work in the building would want to re-enter the building full time. About 50 of them would consider hybrid – a trend that is fairly consistent in the work forces that are being surveyed about work styles and habits after the pandemic. It is clear that the pandemic has revealed a lot to us about work options we did not consider before. It has also left us with an even more reduced footprint in a building we had already grown very small inside.
I requested that the Chair of the UCC Board appoint a task force to advise me, which she called into action. Consultants were hired to give us information about all of our options. This task force has been functioning since late 2020, and meets every other week to consider options, pore over new information, and advise me as to best options.
We have discovered in working with our consultants that conditions are favorable for selling right now because of a drop in interest rates; and conditions are favorable for leasing space because downtown buildings dedicated to leasing office space are, and have been, largely empty through the time of the pandemic. We may be in a rather unusual set of circumstances where both selling our property and moving into another as lessees advantages us.
Of concern to us if we sell and move into a right-sized space is the integrity of Amistad Chapel. We had agreed from the start we would maintain the architectural and spiritual integrity of that space. All options we are considering have placed that at the center of our deliberations.
In the last week, I have begun to look at alternative work-space environments for our staff, knowing that if we sell 700 Prospect we will have to have something else that works for us. There are many spaces now open in the downtown area – so there is no doubt we have good options. Our CFO reports to me that conservative estimates show the spaces we are looking at to lease would reduce our annual building expenses by over half a million dollars – no small consideration if we are talking about how to be good stewards.
I invite your prayers as we continue to pursue all options, and as we draw ever closer to clarifying our future needs. These are not easy decisions. In closing, I simply repeat: any decision we make – whether to stay in our current building or move to another – will be a faithful response to our call to be good stewards of resources entrusted to us for the mission of the United Church of Christ; will ensure that our staff are given full consideration for the expectations they have of a workplace environment that enhances rather than inhibits their contributions to this mission; and will only be made after extensive analysis from experts, key stakeholders, and critical covenant partners.
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, United Church of Christ General Minister and President
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