Conference sells historic Wesley building to nonprofit for $1M

July 20, 2016
The interior of the historic Wesley building.

By: Christa Meland

After being on the market for more than a year, Historic Wesley on Grant—a downtown Minneapolis building that was home to the former Wesley United Methodist Church—was sold to a nonprofit for $1 million through a contract for deed. The sale closed Friday.
Rev. Paul Marzahn is president of the nonprofit, Historic Wesley Center on Grant Street, and formed it after the building was decommissioned late last year. Marzahn is senior pastor at Crossroads Church—a United Methodist congregation that has four campuses in Minnesota.
“It saddened my heart to think that the Wesley Church could be sold to something other than a church,” he said. “The ministries I have been part of would disappearing…God just laid it on my heart to see if I could do something about it.”
The 124-year-old Wesley building, which is adjacent to the Minneapolis Convention Center, was built in 1891. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and received a local historical designation from the Minneapolis Preservation Commission.
“I love the heritage of that center being a place for peace and justice,” said Marzahn. “It has a long tradition of caring for the least, the lost, and the left behind. I want it to remain a place of prayer and caring for the poor.”
After Wesley United Methodist Church discontinued in 2007, Recovery Church, now in St. Paul, occupied the building from 2007 to 2009. It came under the care and ownership of the Minnesota Conference in 2010. Since then, the building has been used as an event center, and space is rented out for weddings, special events, and some group meetings; several nonprofits also lease office space, and various ministries are housed there.
But the building was expensive to maintain, no longer helping the conference to fulfill its mission, and diverting resources needed to start new congregations within the conference, so it was listed for sale in early 2015.
Trustee Karen Andrew, who was heavily involved in the sale process, said it represents the best-case scenario for all involved.
“It relieves us of the pressure and burden of taking care of that building, and it also relieves us of the cost of that building,” she said. “But it’s a special building, and I am thrilled that it will continue to be a ministry site. The nonprofit that bought it loves that building and will take good care of it and continue to use it to make a difference in the lives of many.”
The 30,300-square-foot Wesley building has been referred to as the “mother church” in Minneapolis Methodism. Ten United Methodist churches have founding connections with the building, several of which are still in existence today—including Hennepin Avenue UMC, Simpson UMC, Park Avenue UMC, and Epworth UMC.

The exterior of the historic Wesley building.
“This is a unique and wonderful property,” said Barb Brower, the conference’s director of finance and administration, and treasurer. “For more than a century, it has been a place where people have come to know Christ and experienced God’s love. Selling a beloved building is always difficult, but the conference is in the business of changing lives—not holding onto property. I am thrilled that the building will be used to continue to reach people in the name and spirit of Jesus.”
Proceeds from the sale of conference properties are typically reinvested to help start new churches and revitalize existing congregations around the state. However, because of the significant utility and maintenance costs that the building has required in recent years, proceeds will mostly be used to replenish funds previously used for its upkeep.
Marzahn said most of the groups currently leasing space within the building will continue to do so—and the building will continue to be used for special events. Additionally, non-denominational Substance Church has signed on as the newest tenant. Substance has two campuses, one of which will move to the Wesley building as of July 31. For the remainder of the summer, there will be one worship service—and two services will launch this fall. The building will soon undergo renovations to modernize the space and enhance the AV system.
The building’s other ministries will also continue. Crossroads Church hosts a dinner and worship service on Sunday evenings that reaches a diverse group of people in transition—including those who are homeless, in recovery, and recently out of prison. Additionally, Wesley Meals, which a number of Minnesota United Methodists churches are involved in, will still provide meals on Saturdays.
Marzahn is exploring additional uses for the building too—for example, renting out the commercial-grade kitchen to food trucks to use as a prepping station, and housing Christian concerts and various plays. The idea is that these opportunities would generate income to help fund other outreach ministries.
Marzahn also wants to restore a “prayer tower” within the building and allow various faith communities to use it to look over the city and pray.
“The building will continue to be a place of prayer, peace, and justice work in the inner city,” he said.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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