Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Marion Avenue Baptist Church received approval for a site plan at the corner of Washington Street and B Avenue from the City Council Tuesday night.
“It’s really an expansion of our ministry, and we believe it’s really vital for our growth,” said Aiden Cane, who spoke on behalf of the church at the council meeting. “I think it’s going to be a great building for the downtown area as well. We put a lot of effort into making sure that it’s aesthetically pleasing to the community.”
Pastor Joseph Brown said the church hoped the planned building on the former location of the Perdock Building would boost its bus ministry program.
“We go all over Southeast Iowa, and we bring them in on buses,” he said. “It’s basically like a Vacation Bible School all year-round, 52 weekends a year. We feed them twice, we have Bible songs, the Sunday songs, we have activities for them … this building will facilitate that ministry every Sunday. There will be children's classes, adult classes, there will be a kitchen.”
Brown said the building will include 18 classrooms and an office for the bus ministry.
“It’s going to facilitate a whole lot more space to be able to bring in more children, more bus riders,” he said.
The building plan includes a gymnasium, which Brown said could double as an event center for the church or a community-accessible venue.
Brown said he expected the church’s buses to handle the expected uptick in attendance.
“That may come down the road, but we don’t anticipate more buses, we just anticipate more people on the buses,” he said.
Still, concerns about parking in the church’s neighborhood were raised at the city council meeting.
“I think it’s a wonderful drawn up building, I just have some concerns about parking,” council member Elaine Moore said. “There’s not a lot of parking there, around that area. I just wondered if you had thought about the additional vehicles … I think parking is something that you’re probably going to have to think about in the future.”
Building and Zoning official Jeff Duwa said zoning requirements for the building had specific parking regulations due to its downtown location.
“There was a couple of options brought up at the time of the initial meeting,” he said. “That might just be something for discussion, earlier than later.”
Brown said the church had parking solutions in the works, including arrangements with nearby lots and off-site bus parking. Because none of those alternatives were finalized, he did not disclose a specific plan of action.
“The people who are filling that building are those riding the buses, so we don’t anticipate any more cars,” he said. “What happens is when that building is there, or when we’ve had a tent on there … and cars cannot park on that lot, we would begin to park around the exterior of the church and also on our black top. We’ve been in discussion with some other real estate options.”
Mayor Jaron Rosien said the concerns were valid but didn’t justify delaying the project for now.
“I don’t think it’s a reason for us to go a different direction from what is in front of us right now,” he said. “But I’m happy to hear that’s still a potential opportunity because I know we share that concern.”
The church was, until recently, in discussions with the city to construct a building with a similar purpose on a smaller, city-owned lot also on North Marion Ave., a fact that concerned council member Steve Gault.
“I find this conversation very disturbing because I know there was at least two or three people that offered to buy that lot in the last four or five years from Mr. Hinson, and he wouldn’t sell it,” Gault said. “Holding something in the hopes of doing something else, I’m sorry, is not right, number one. Number two, it would have been a business, it would have been uptown, it would have been a tax base. I find it very disturbing that Mr. Hinson has been talking with these guys when there’s other people that wanted to buy it.”
Former City Administrator Brent Hinson, who no longer works in Washington, was not at the meeting to comment. Main Street Washington Executive Director Sarah Grunewaldt said she could think of other reasons the lot north of the church hadn’t been sold, such as requirements that any building in sight of the town square be at least two stories, and have a masonry front.
“I’m not sure specifically, Steve, what you’re referring to,” she said. “My guess is whoever made the offer, whatever they were offering to build, may not meet the design standards that are required for that space … I know I have worked with several businesses that were interested in that space, and those deals fell through for varying reasons.”
As for the lot the group now plans to expand into, public records show the church purchased it in 2008, though Brown said the building was torn down around 2010 after a partial collapse, leaving an empty lot behind.
With the site plan approved by a 6-0 vote, Brown said the church tentatively planned to have the building finished in just over a year.
“Because of the current situation with COVID timelines, that’s kind of pushed everything back, there’s a lot of unknowns as far as supply, especially steel,” he said. “We still do not have a guaranteed date. However, what we’re goaling for is they would still break ground this fall and be done within 12 months of Oct. 1.”
In the meantime, Brown said Marion Avenue Baptist Church community would wait with excitement.
“It’s very very exciting, our church is very excited about it,” he said. “It’s a great investment for the future. We have so many young couples and so many children, and obviously this is going to facilitate an incredible event space.”