When the Lower 8th Street S.E. Vision Process was released to the public in summer of 2010, none of the participants - Barracks Row Main Street, Capitol Riverfront BID, D.C. Office of Planning, ANC 6B or the property or business owners - had seen National Community Church (NCC) on the radar. But behind the scenes the Church had been positioning itself to buy properties in the area, the most recent and surprising of which is The People's Church - a former theater - for which NCC paid $3 million dollars, cash. The People's Church at 535 8th Street S.E. will serve as NCC's seventh location and will double, once again, as a community theater. NCC pastor Mark Batterson says the NCC has been meeting with architects about possibly restoring the The People's Church to its original facade. "It plays a critical role for us because we own an amazing piece of property three blocks away but we know construction will take 3-4 years," said Batterson. "It's like our phase one is already built."
National Community Church started its buying spree in September with the Miles Glass building at 733 Virginia Avenue, the site next door, Capitol Auto Works at 701 Virginia Avenue and a site adjacent to it (around which the congregation prayed until the owner opted to sell.) Also included in church acquisitions is Square 906, which includes two buildings built in the early 1800's. NCC paid for every property in cash.
The People's Church had been looking to relocate to Prince Georges County to be closer to their parishioners for quite some time. To prepare for sale, The People's Church had renovated the old theater with the help of Barracks Row Main Street. "I think that Mark Batterson had been talking to them for about a year," said Martin Smith of Barracks Row Main Street, of the pastor that led the acquisition. "Between the People's Church finding a new location in PG county and Mark making an offer they could not refuse, things just came together."
Having lived on Capitol Hill with his wife and three children for the last fifteen years, Batterson said he has been looking for "developable property" since the theater that housed their headquarters in Union Station closed in 2009. "We had met there for thirteen years," said Batterson. "It really forced us to reexamine our strategy as a church." Lower Barracks Row fit the bill. "In fact, it was the only property we found that was the right size in the right place," he said. " It's tough to beat it's accessibility and visibility."
Smith said he is "amazed" at the swiftness with which NCC has purchased the Barracks Row property. "Back in the summer, we had thought we were talking about allowing for a short term lease to turn the Miles Glass building into a garden store until someone could buy it," he said. Though he was initially surprised at how things have unfolded regarding the NCC purchases, once he met Batterson, he understood why he has culled a growing congregation. "Batterson really is a charismatic and dynamic man."
Where has NCC gotten its money? Think of it as a franchise model. What started nearly fifteen years ago, first in a public school then in the Union Station theater, now has six locations and is looking to expand to twenty by 2020. Each building has little overhead, no mortgage, and no $50,000 pipe organ. Many locations earn income for NCC.
In addition, well-off members of the congregation help it along. "We've also had some major gifts that would qualify as 'miracles' as well," said Batterson. In addition to its property acquisitions, "We gave close to $700,000 to causes and ministries outside our four walls last year."
As far as the future of the combined properties, "[w]hen we build out the Virginia Avenue property it will be 100,000+ s.f. with a performance theater, child development center, retail, and offices," said Batterson. "It will be a base of operations for our staff as we continue to expand."
Washington, D.C. real estate news