Simply put, Ludwig's congregation will be unaffected, while the 60,000 sq. ft. church will sustain its own costs through the renovation of two-thirds of the building into 21 apartments.
"I love this church, both the architectural church building and the people that make it up," Ludwig says. "But we've been following unsustainable model for years. It worked for a while when there was significant wealth in the market, but that stopped." The economy changed along with the notion that a church would throw open its doors and the people would come in and lavish money on it. Ludwig found he had to make cuts. We took a hit," he says. "As a community centered resource to our neighborhood and caretakers of the building, we knew we couldn't carry on this way."
Enter creative reuse, or rather, co-use. Ludwig says a lot of churches find themselves in tough financial times; some quit and some struggle, but he's taking a different path. Rather than allow the church to die a slow death, Ludwig will use his resources to reinvent the architectural aspect of the building so that it produces income to care for itself, while leaving the congregation whole. Most salient for the holy man forced to think about dollars - something he says he didn't go to school for - the congregation will cease to see their money being sucked into exorbitant gas bills and upkeep, and they can instead see their donations used for mission and ministry within their neighborhood.
"We've seen reuse of churches," Ludwig says, and rattles off a few in the near vicinity: Parish commons, Bryant parish, Babeville and the Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum buildings. "On top of that, I'm from Pittsburgh, and there are cool church reuses there as well. The question is: why does a congregation have to fold before a good use is made of the structure?" Ludwig notes that the enormous allotment of space is not used to capacity, or used well. "It was built for a different generation and neighborhood, with different ideas about how to serve it," he explains.
Ludwig goes on to say that when an organization is in decline, it's hard to get people to give, but by finding a way to become sustainable, it allows people to be more generous where it counts. "In recent years we've demonstrated we're not interested in being a club for a few people. The best way to evaluate a religion is how it treats the non-adherents," he states." Ludwig believes that his church's presence in the community at large will make people of all beliefs "glad that there are Christians on the corner of Elmwood and Lafayette. We live for the good of other people."
The 21 units of market rate apartments - not low income, not subsidized, and not designated for the congregation or any other sub-set - will be on level with housing in the immediate area. "Not super expensive, not super cheap," Ludwig explains. "It's in a building on the National Register of Historic Places
, and the apartments will have high ceilings and beautiful old windows."
He says the church will still have worship space, a large community room, smaller rooms for board meetings and Alcoholics Anonymous. "We'll still have Loaves and Fishes and The Right Place for kids. We'll upgrade all of those, all while producing funds to take care of the building. I see it as win, win, win; it's an upgrade for the building, which will pay for itself to function in the coming years, and current users get to maintain their presence." And some lucky souls will get to live there.
Because the funding sought is through tax credits for reuse of a historic site, condos are not an option, according to Ludwig. He says there is no scheduled date for the beginning of construction, as funding is still needed to close that gap. "Right now, we've raised enough funds to talk about it. Our hope is spend 2010 securing funds, with construction beginning in spring of 2011, but I can't say with certainty." Ludwig has an architect in Clinton Brown, but no developer as of yet. "Most funding will come from the congregation; we'll muddle with a mortgage against the value of the current property and a plan for the new property. We'll take a mortgage of around $3.5 million, and that's conservative against what we will borrow. Add that to tax credits and a grant, and it will get us to 65 to 70 percent of the total cost of project, which is estimated at $7.9 million."
Ludwig agrees that the numbers sound scary. "It is scary; I went to school to be a minister, to learn to pray the bible, perform weddings, not to be a real estate developer. I'm not a numbers guy or finance guy. This has been an education, but I look forward to the time when I don't have to be this guy and can go back to ministry for good, but this is a step in the path. I need a new way to support the ministry."
When word of the project came out, Ludwig was beseeched with two questions. One was a misunderstanding that thought the ministry was closing; it is not. The other involves parking. "We will need more parking for apartments, but 15 parking spaces aren't adequate, regardless of use. One of places we'll add parking is at our playground [on St. James], which we hope and plan to make into a better, nicer playground on the Elmwood lawn. We are proud we've shared the playground with the community and we want to continue to do so. The parking will be done with sensitivity to our St. James neighbors, with an approach on Laffayette and entrance into the Lafayette side of the building. The 9 tenants with spaces on the St. James side will be the only people with keys to the St. James door. This will minimize vehicular and people traffic on that street."
On Thursday, December 10th, at 4PM, Ludwig will hold a reception at the church
with a slideshow and discussion about what he hopes to accomplish. He's already had initial talks with neighbors, and says this won't be an intense public forum, but he's hoping to gather supporters and friends so they can work with the church. "It's a friend-raising, educational session," Ludwig says, "so people can talk about this in an informed way."