Hope arrived just before 5 p.m. on a Thursday earlier this month in a run-of-the-mill email.
For years, David Warm had helped lead an effort to transform the dormant Linwood Presbyterian Church building into a hub of community-service-related organizations in the Ivanhoe neighborhood. It was a project that had spanned three decades, involved the assistance of some 200 to 300 people along the way and, more than once, appeared dead in the water.
But now, on his computer screen, was the first sign of progress: a picture of a construction crew installing large windows on the building’s south side.
On his way home that night, Warm stopped by the construction site, parked his car and gazed up at those windows, allowing himself, finally, to believe that this was actually happening.
“Those windows have been the most tangible evidence, emotionally, that this is really going to come to pass,” said Warm, who in addition to volunteering for this project is executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council.
Today, as the project to refurbish the more than 100-year-old church approaches its completion, Warm and the handful of others who have been there from the beginning are finally able to exhale.
Inside and outside the church building, signs of progress are everywhere. Construction workers bustle back and forth in hard hats and muddy boots, hustling to complete work on the four floors and 36,500 square feet of leasable floor space. Lately, prospective tenants have been stopping by to tour the areas of office space that haven’t yet been rented out.
In just over a month, meanwhile, the building’s first tenant — ReDiscover, an organization that provides mental health and substance abuse services — will be moving a portion of its operations into the Harold Thomas Center, a building connected to the church, before moving in fully upon the project’s completion this summer or fall.
“It’s a symbol of hope for the community,” said Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council executive director Margaret May, echoing a chorus of others.
If the excitement surrounding the project runs particularly deep, you’ll have to excuse them — it’s been quite a process.
Since 1995, when the Linwood Area Ministry Place was created to repurpose the church building, those involved have worked countless hours to transform it into a neighborhood anchor.
Despite their efforts, however, many in recent years had begun to wonder if it was a lost cause.
As time passed, frustrations had mounted as multiple leads fell through. Various financing plans had petered out. The bureaucratic hoops and roadblocks had worn on those involved. On the eve of a fundraising push in 2014, in fact — this time seeking a combination of federal and state tax credits and philanthropic contributions — there was the uncomfortable feeling that the project might ultimately be doomed.
“We said, ‘This is it. We’re going to give it our very, very best, but if this doesn’t work, then I think we’re going to have to take a look that this is maybe hopeless,’” said May, one of the project’s earliest driving forces. “None of us wanted to admit that, but we were at a decision point.”
And then in September 2014 — after years of frustration and near-misses — the dominoes began falling.
Central Bank and the KCMO Community Development Entity each allocated new market tax credits that yielded $2.5 million of equity for the project. Historic preservation tax credits brought $3 million. And Simons First Bank provided a roughly $3 million mortgage that will be paid by the leasing of the building’s office space.
With an additional half million dollars coming from the city and other contributions, the project was able to generate roughly $9 million in funding, enough to push forward.
The group’s leaders then turned their attention to a new but equally daunting task: transforming an unused church, closed since 1979, into something viable for the neighborhood.
Located at the southwest intersection of U.S. 71 and Linwood Boulevard and constructed in 1891, Linwood Presbyterian Church had long loomed large over the surrounding area. And over the ensuing decades it would become a community staple.
“When you say, ‘The chuch off of 71 and Linwood,’ everyone knows what you’re talking about,” said Marsha Page-White, clinical director of substance abuse services for ReDiscover.
But while it once served as a place of worship to as many as 2,000, the building will now house community-service-based organizations aimed at transforming the once-vibrant Ivanhoe neighborhood.
In addition to ReDiscover, for instance, the building will house the Front Porch Alliance, a group dedicated to building youth leadership and connecting families to their neighborhoods, and the Heartland Presbytery, the district offices for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
It was this focus on community service organizations that eventually helped draw the final funding necessary to see the project through.
“It was a great story for us because not only are we putting back into use this unused church, but the tenants that were going in there were going to be able to provide critical services and just be a kind of anchor for that community,” said Ruben Alonso, executive director of KCMO Community Development Entity, a not-for-profit organization that was a key component in raising funds for the project.
“The investment in that property is going to be transformative for the community and that Linwood corridor.”
Group leaders certainly hope that’s the case.
Simply having multiple organizations housed in the area, the thinking goes, will aid revitalization efforts. And even little things, like the building’s various employees going out to lunch in the neighborhood, figure to pump some life — and money — into the area.
Of course, as the project’s designated completion date nears, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Currently scaffolding — which Jim Scott, whose company, Scott Associates, is serving as project architect, points out is costing $20,000 a month to rent — fills the inside of the church. Walls have yet to be constructed, and those leading the project are still hoping to lease out the remaining office space before the building’s official opening.
“Make that the headline of your story,” Warm joked on a recent weekday afternoon during a tour of the facility with a handful of others, “12,000 square feet still available.”
But on this day, even the remaining workload and unusually gloomy weather — gray clouds blotted out the sun and rain fell in light sheets, turning the church parking lot into a veritable mud pit — couldn’t dampen Warm’s spirit.
After years of disappointment and near-misses, here he was, in the home stretch, smiling as he spoke about a project 20 years in the making.
Said Warm, exuding a bit of disbelief: “It’s really coming together.”