By Jim Nieman
A church of 150 in Rochester, Minn., has purchased and relocated to the former Crossroads College property, is renting apartments on the 37-acre site for below-market rates, and is revamping “commercial space” for use by nonprofits.
Bear Creek Christian Church lead pastor Aaron Wager and outreach pastor Jeff Urban refer to this undertaking as the church’s “Big Holy Audacious God Goal” (with apologies to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great).
So far, it seems to be working—though not without some bumps.
From Conversation to Reality
When the property was up for sale, Wager and Urban mused about the possibility of Bear Creek buying it. That conversation turned more serious when they realized an existing Bear Creek ministry focus—repairing trailers for people in need for use as transitional housing—actually could be applied on a different scale at the college.
“I thought, Wow, we could probably do something with this,” Wager said.
When a purchase plan was developed and presented to the congregation, it was approved unanimously.
Bear Creek began the process of buying the property a year ago but didn’t formally complete the $3.95 million purchase until June 29. In the interim, however, the church was permitted to make improvements and collect rent monies that it has poured back into the property.
“We made the decision to go ahead [with the purchase] last September,” Urban said, but the property didn’t change hands until after rezoning finally occurred in June. “We did a contract for deed with the college” because a traditional bank loan wasn’t possible. “We moved out here [last September] kind of on a handshake. We just took all the funds that came in [via apartment rentals]—about $140,000 above expenses over 10 months—and put that back into the facility.”
A trust which had supported the college through some of its financial hardships held the note on the property. The people who oversee the trust knew Wager and Urban, approved of the church’s plans, and so they continued to pay the mortgage while zoning issues were worked out, Urban said. “They just allowed us to take over [the property] for 10 months” until the final sale.
Renting Apartments and ‘Commercial Space’
Of the 43 apartments at the site, about 40 percent were rented as of last September and most all are rented now, Wager said. All of the living spaces have kitchens or shared kitchens (the college did not offer traditional dormitory housing).
There are 13 four-bedroom family apartments (which the church rents for $1,000 monthly), 18 one-bedroom apartments ($575 monthly), and a dozen six- and seven-bedroom spaces that have shared living areas that include kitchens ($400 per bedroom monthly), Urban said. All rents include utilities.
There also is “commercial space” the church intends to rent/lease to nonprofits. There already are three tenants: Doc’s Recovery House (which plans to provide transitional housing for people with chemical addictions); Network for Life (a mentorship program for the formerly incarcerated); and a local charter school, Rochester STEM Academy. Wager notes that some workers at these nonprofits are graduates of Crossroads College. Additional space for nonprofits is continuing to be developed.
“That 10 months allowed us to fix things up and get the cash flow up from $18,000 to approximately $55,000 a month,” and that figure is continuing to increase, Urban said. The plan is to use all 70,000 square feet of building space at the site “someway, somehow.”
The church itself meets in the former academic Building. Previously, the church, which started in 2009, leased space from the Boys & Girls Club.
Good for the Community
Developers who had considered buying the site saw the apartments as a liability and likely would have torn them down, Urban said. Had a high-end development moved in, he said, it would have left the underserved in Rochester with even fewer options.
“[Bear Creek] took a look at this opportunity, this diamond in the rough, and said, ‘We can make something out of this,’” Dave Dunn, executive director of the Olmsted County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, told KAAL-TV.
“One of the things that we lack in this community are rental properties that are high quality at affordable rates,” Dunn continued. “So keeping this rental property is of the utmost importance.”
Volunteers from across the city have been helping with improvements.
“It’s really a team effort with other folks in town,” Urban said. “We had a group of about a dozen from Mount Olive Lutheran Church out here yesterday. They were mainly painting.”
Added Wager: “Many churches from a variety of backgrounds have asked how they could help.”
Most of the necessary improvements are “superficial” and not “structural,” Urban said, though professionals occasionally are called to make certain repairs.
A Looming Tax Bill Deadline
A top concern right now is paying down a tax bill that grew larger than hoped because the college’s tax-exempt status lapsed after it suspended operations in 2016 but before the church could complete its purchase in late June, Urban said.
The church has paid just over half the $118,000 tax bill resulting from 2017 assessments but owes the final $57,000 by October 15. If necessary, Urban said, some of the church’s improvement plans may be delayed in order to pay off that bill.
Future tax bills should be lower, based on rezoning that occurred in June and the church’s business model.
What About the College?
Crossroads College, meanwhile, has remained in existence since discontinuing classes in August 2016, always holding out hope of partnering with another institution and continuing its mission of serving churches and students.
The hopes and prayers of its board of trustees were answered earlier this month when an agreement was signed with Hope International University (Fullerton, Calif.) to establish HIU–Minnesota, said Curtis McGinnis, chief operating officer of Crossroads College. (See sidebar.)
Details must still be worked out, but McGinnis anticipates classroom (and online) instruction will commence this coming January. His hope is to lease classroom space at—you guessed it—the old Crossroads campus.
Wager, for one, would love to see that happen. He is a 1991 graduate of the college (then known as Minnesota Bible College). Beyond that, his wife, brother, brother’s wife, two aunts, and two uncles are also graduates. Additionally, Wager served a stint on Crossroads’ board of trustees.
If all things work out (and Wager has “godly confidence” they will), Bear Creek will be receiving rent monies to cover most or all of its operational costs, and the congregational giving need won’t be dramatically higher—a few thousand dollars—than it had been prior to moving. That, despite the church’s facilities budget increasing from about $3,000 to $50,000 per month. Of course, Wager allows, there are bound to be occasional unforeseen costs.
But the church has some experience at succeeding at the improbable. Teenagers from this small, 9-year-old church won the Bible Bowl National Tournament at Johnson University in June.
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.