Church has Big Plans for Empty East Raleigh Lot

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A huge lot bordering one of the main corridors to the state capitol has been a blank slate for years, but a change in owners could change all that. Vintage 21 Church plans to close a $1.7 million deal this fall on 8 acres of land currently owned by the Raleigh Rescue Mission just east of downtown.

The deal for 7.61 acres would allow for some major growth and development of the church, said Nate Williams, executive pastor of Vintage 21. “We love Raleigh,” he said. “We want to be a little city within the city.”

The church has been under contract to purchase the land at 600 New Bern Avenue since last November.

“We’re all excited,” said Williams.

The growing congregation of Triangle residents is spread across three campuses in East and West Raleigh, and Durham, and church organizers have been planning to find a property to expand upon for about a year.

Looking for land

The campaign to break new ground began early last year when Vintage 21 organizers started to draft fundraising plans. Incorporated in 2010 as a Protestant religion-based 501(c)3, the nonprofit relies on donor contributions  for operations, Williams said.

The church began collecting towards a new location in June 2010, and after a couple potential options fell through – both along Capitol Boulevard – organizers discovered the property at 600 New Bern Ave.

“It was all about timing,” Williams said.

Wake County real estate records show the land assessed for about $1.3M on Jan. 1, 2008. Vintage 21 Church is under contract for a $1.7 million price tag, according to Williams.

“We’ve raised about 400k so far,” he said, with plans to continue raising money for the rest of the year.

The church is “definitely” firm on cutting a check for the property later this fall, he said, adding that, “If [by the closing date] we need to take out a loan, we will.”

The church’s roots

Vintage 21 Church was established Nov. 18, 2002, after being founded, or “planted” by Lead Pastor Tyler Jones.

“Church planting is also known as church revitalization,” Williams said.

Through the organization’s Advance the Church initiative, Vintage 21 acts as a consultant to other churches in need of direction, in addition to its regular Sunday services.

Executive Pastor Nate Williams has been with Vintage 21 Church since 2005.

“Whether it’s finding a new pastor or figuring out how to operate,” Williams said, a church planting is “working to bring life back into the church.”

Williams joined the church in 2005 as an intern after moving with his wife from Oklahoma, hopeful that he would pick up the necessary training for a church planting of his own. Quickly, though, he and his wife decided to plant their own roots in Raleigh, and Williams joined Pastor Jones on staff at Vintage 21.

“We haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Its headquarters at 12 1/2 E. Hargett St., is between two downtown staples — the Raleigh Times and its caffeinated sister operation, the Morning Times.

The church “really wanted to remain a part of downtown Raleigh,” Williams said, while still accommodating their increasing membership.

The Vintage 21 set is a little different from what some people may expect. While Williams asserts that the church’s mission is not unlike any other religious institution, he agrees that some non-traditional means like Twitter, podcasts and satirical “Jesus” videos have enabled the church to reach more people.

Vintage 21, Williams said, “is a result of the people that come.”

“We have people that are creative, savvy and think through issues,” he said, adding that social media “is an avenue that we want to use, but we want to use it well.”

By the numbers, it seems to be working. The church began with 37 members in 2002 is now clocking attendance in at more than 1,400, which Williams said is a modest estimate.

“Our western campus was totally full, so we knew we needed to find a new place,” he said.

The 7.61 acre lot at the corner of Swain and New Bern Avenue has been under contract with Vintage 21 Church since November 2010, with plans to close the deal on November this year.

Plans for the land

With the deed still a few months from completion, the exact plans for the land will be up for consideration, but a few ideas have been on the table.

“Our initial concept is to start a co-op,” Williams said.

The church’s concept for the land is to develop an office facility to accommodate about 15-18 organizations that need space for their own “change-oriented” visions.

“We want to be a catalyst for change,” he said. “We hope to develop facilities to bless others, and possibly give away office space to other organizations” that otherwise couldn’t afford it, he said.

One centerpiece of the future development will be another base for the Vintage 21 Church network of campuses. Of the aesthetic plan for its new shared worship space, Williams said, “It probably won’t be a traditional church.”

He added that it will be more than two years before any ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We plan on going out into the community and asking what their needs are,” he said. “We don’t assume to know.”

For at least one business owner in the neighborhood, which is located on the northern edge of Raleigh’s South Central district  and just south of the Historic Oakwood neighborhood, any addition is welcome.

“I’ve been here 11 years, and there’s never been anything over there,” said Gina Weaver, owner of Kinky Concept Hair Salon, located across the street from the vacant lot. “I think a church would be positive.”

For others, while development to the land would be invited, they see other potential uses for the space.

Nathan Croom has been a resident of the area for five years and said, “Anything would be good there, but if that neighborhood needs anything, it’s a grocery store.”

Croom said the lot was once home to a thriving community garden, and in recent years, a perimeter of fencing kept out a lot of unwanted activity.

“It used to be pretty sketchy,” Croom said of the steady foot traffic across the property.

According to the last 30 days of crime data released by the city and county, the area immediately surrounding the property had one instance of an auto theft, one count of larceny and one home burglary.

Organizers at Vintage 21 said they understand the neighborhood has its own identity and needs.

“It’s in the middle of two extremes,” Williams said. “To the north, [the area is] richer  – and to the south, poorer,” he said. “Our direction can change because of the people in the area,” he said.


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