From the moment one enters the new Central Community Church building on York Road, it’s clear this is much more than a church.
In fact, as project manager Grant McArthur explains, the facility is being purpose-built to become the region’s next conference centre, with all future bookings helping to pay for the construction and the ongoing costs of keeping the church open.
“That was my theory from the start,” McArthur explains, “let’s get tenants and rent. We can have conferences here, such as TEDx, Disney, management courses, and concerts too. As much as it’s a church, it’s a community centre.”
Its main hall features an expansive stage and the capacity to seat about 2,000. Factor in as well a smaller, more intimate auditorium, a number of break-out rooms on the second floor, and a main foyer large enough to accommodate as many as 10 cars for an indoor car show, and it’s easy to see why McArthur views it as filling the ‘sweet spot’ between the Niagara Falls Convention Centre and St. Catharines’ Meridian Centre.
Its proximity to the Queen Elizabeth Way and two nearby hotels (Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express and Suites) is a selling point that he says is already drawing interest.
Though the congregation has yet to hire a permanent manager to take charge of the bookings, McArthur has spread the word via social media about the intention to rent the space out during the week for large events. Many who have responded to ask for more information have focused on its location in Niagara-
As well, the main church hall will have no permanent, fixed seating, other than in the second floor gallery, which will hold more than 300. The congregation will instead sit in 1,500 to 1,600 removable chairs on the main floor, which can be tucked into storage spaces under the stage. That allows the church to be converted to a gymnasium to rent to local athletic groups.
“I’ve been in touch with the Niagara Rapids Volleyball Club,” McArthur says, “and the River Lions were interested in renting it as their practice facility, but the cost of us putting in a floor was prohibitive.” He also mentions indoor soccer and pickleball as activities that the building can accommodate.
Services for Central Community Church, referred to as experiences on their website, are currently being run out of their building on Scott Street in St. Catharines. That facility has been sold to a group that plans to erect a high-rise condominium project. The sale helped fund the current project, which is expected to come in at just under $20 million in total, including land costs, even after construction was hindered due to the pandemic.
Central recognized the need for a bigger space as much as 14 years ago, as the congregation began to outgrow the 900-capacity Scott Street church. The pastors there were delivering three services a day to meet the demand before COVID.
The concept and design process began in full force in 2015, with original plans to break ground in 2018. Permits and other processes delayed that for another year, and during the early stages of the pandemic construction work was ordered to stop altogether. What was hoped to be a 2021 opening has now been pushed to spring, 2022.
“It’s been a long journey, with a lot of twists and turns,” says lead pastor Bill Markham. “But we’re all excited that the dream that we had is going to finally be realized.”
Markham says beyond the revenue that conferences and concerts may soon bring, the primary purpose for the new building is to allow Central Community Church to become a greater presence and support in the community.
“We wanted to build a safe space for multiple generations to gather, whether it be through sports, or music, or whatever,” Markham explains. “It’s rooted in our philosophy that we should leave a community better than when we entered it. That’s our driving passion, how can we support our community.”
The Central community is approximately 3,000 strong, with 261 members from Niagara-on-the-Lake who take part in services and the various smaller group gatherings offered by the church. Its current location in north St. Catharines means a larger percentage of that 3,000 is from that city, but members come from across the region.
The acreage was an obvious selling point for Markham. But more important was that the York Road location makes it a short trip from St. Catharines while acting as a central hub near the QEW for those members from Niagara Falls and Welland.
“We did a demographic study of the people who come to our church, and we discovered this was a central location,” explains Markham. “We also knew that (Glendale) was considered one of the fastest growing areas in all of Niagara.”
Markham says in early talks with the town about their plans, the fact that any young families will move into new developments in close proximity to the new church was often discussed. He envisions weddings taking place on site and children of all ages using the facility, whether members or not.
To that end, one of the services to be offered at the York Road location is a daycare centre with space for 65 children. Central currently offers 39 spaces out of their Scott Street location and according to childcare Central supervisor and NOTL resident Christine Lett, there is a waiting list of 135 families.
Lett is quick to point out the childcare centre has always been open to all families, not just those who attend Central Community Church. When they move into York Road, in addition to the current 15 toddler and 24 preschool spaces, it will also be licensed for 10 infants and 16 morning-only preschoolers.
The new layout will bring all the children into one central space, with separate rooms for each group arranged in a circle, allowing Lett to oversee each room from her office. That’s something she can’t do on Scott Street, where their two rooms are at opposite ends of the building. As well, there will be an outdoor playground enclosed by a fence, another amenity not offered at the current daycare.
“We are very excited,” Lett tells The Local about the new facility. “For the last 10 years we’ve been in a classroom, and sometimes in the spring we would go for a walk around the building, but we are definitely looking forward to our outdoor space and the opportunities that will open up for learning.”
With the project approaching completion over the next few months, McArthur expects some final inspections, including one for its occupancy permit, to take place in February. And with the increased cost of construction during COVID, he’s always looking for ways to ensure the project doesn’t go over that original limit of $20 million.
“One of the biggest costs is our sound system,” McArthur says. “We cut back about $700,000 there by pulling out all of our equipment from Scott Street and bringing it over. The costs for everything have been a moving target, changing from one month to the next.”
Provided there are no further delays in construction and pending the completion of those final expectations, McArthur says the plan is to start using the building for its many purposes in late March.