Mars Hill Church to move into historic Methodist Church building downtown
Mars Hill Church plans to relocate its downtown Seattle branch this fall from Belltown to the former First United Methodist Church at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One of the region's newest and fastest-growing churches will soon take up residence in one of Seattle's oldest church buildings.
Mars Hill Church plans to relocate its downtown branch this fall from Belltown to the former First United Methodist Church at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street.
The building, which has served as the Daniels Recital Hall for the past five years, will continue to offer free concerts and be open to other events, as Mars Hill activities permit.
"It's rewarding to see a portion of the building being used again for the exact same purpose it was designed for in 1906," said Kevin Daniels, a Seattle developer credited with saving the historic church from the wrecking ball in 2007.
Mars Hill Church, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian congregation, has outgrown its location in the former Tabella nightclub, said Tim Gaydos, lead pastor of the downtown church.
Gaydos said the church holds five weekend services for about 1,500 people and was looking for a larger venue downtown that would allow it to continue its ministries to the homeless and to young women caught in the sex-trafficking trade.
"Our heart has always been not just for a great church but for a great city. Being in this location allows us to serve and love Seattle better," Gaydos said.
The deal almost didn't happen. Mars Hill looked at the First United Methodist Church building a year ago but Daniels didn't want to sell or completely relinquish control, said Tom Graff, commercial president of Ewing & Clark Real Estate.
Graff said he got Gaydos and Daniels to talk directly, and they agreed on a five-year lease. "With a lot of hard work, the deal came together," Graff said.
First United Methodist was the church of Seattle's founding families — the Dennys, Bells, Borens and Terrys. It was built in the Beaux Arts classical style, but the Methodist congregation fought a landmark designation for the building and planned to replace the sanctuary with an office building.
A state Supreme Court ruling in 1996 said the church could redevelop its property. Daniels later stepped in and proposed a slender office tower on part of the block that would allow the historic building to be preserved.
The office tower has been on hold as the commercial market struggles to recover, Graff said.
First United Methodist Church moved its dwindling congregation to a smaller, sleek new building near Seattle Center in early 2010.
Mars Hill was founded in Wallingford in 1996 by Pastor Mark Driscoll and is one of the country's fastest-growing churches, with 14 locations in four states and more than 14,000 people meeting weekly. Last Easter, the church held services for almost 20,000 at CenturyLink Field.
Mars Hill's move reflects a trend of growing congregations in the city center, said Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association.
"Twelve years ago, downtown churches were really in danger. Their congregations were aging and they could no longer take care of their buildings. Now we're seeing a revival," Joncas said.
She noted that Gaydos is a former president of the Belltown Business Association and took an active role in neighborhood issues.
"They're not just a Sunday church. They have an active, urban mission that will be a community asset," Joncas said.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.