PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Feb. 23, 2018) -- During a meeting of about 250 Holston Conference pastors, the Rev. Jason Roe presented a ministry vision for the Sevierville facility known as “The Connexion” and a purchase plan to use invested funds and rental income.
Roe is a Holston Conference general evangelist who in June 2017 was appointed by Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor to serve part-time as director of The Connexion.
“Mission is a key part of who we are as Holstonians,” Roe said during the annual Clergy Gathering on Feb. 22 at Music Road Convention Center. “The vision is primarily for this to be a mission center, but the building will fund it.”
Roe said the “$5 million opportunity” could position The Connexion as the "Sager Brown of Holston Conference." Sager Brown Depot is a disaster-relief center operated by UMCOR in Baldwin, Louisiana.
Holston Conference leased the property in February 2016 as proposed by the Rev. Rusty Taylor, director of congregational development. The Holston Annual Conference will vote on whether to purchase the property during its June 10-13 meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C. The lease expires June 30.
Roe said the main 42,000-square-foot building, two warehouses and pavilion on the 49-acre property are already home to local missions and ministries, including an Hispanic congregation, Gatlinburg wildfire-relief groups, and a Tuesday-night recovery service.
He listed other ways the buildings and acreage could be used, including disaster-response training, medical clinics, addiction and domestic-abuse programs, staff retreats, podcast studio, Christian concerts, and youth events.
“This is an opportunity for us to have a mission center that is truly our response to the world,” Roe said.
The purchase price is $5 million. The Citizens National Bank terms are $1 million down, with $4 million to be financed at 5 percent interest amortized over 30 years with the note due in 10 years, Roe said. (The original owners, a nondenominational congregation, surrendered the building to Citizens National Bank in 2013.)
The proposed funding sources include $4.9 million in congregational development funds invested in the Holston Conference Foundation and income from rental space, he said. About $3 million of the invested funds originate from “Builders' Club” giving of years past.
“Much of this money has been sitting for decades, and of course it has grown and accrued,” Roe said of the invested funds designated for congregational development. A “conservative estimate” of rental income for the building is $400,000 annually, he said.
“On a given weekend, it’s not unusual for us to get $10,000 for rental space,” he said.
Operational expenses for the property in 2017 were $167,398, Roe said. He projected it would take two years for The Connexion to be fully utilized as a rental space, explaining that he has not been able to book maximum reservations due to the uncertainty of Holston’s ownership.
The 300-member congregation that currently worships in the building, Inglesia del Espiritu Santo Metodista Unida, is raising money to remodel the pavilion into a separate church building, according to Roe. Espiritu Santo is led by the Rev. Susana Lopez.
Projections for funding the $5 million purchase and operational expenses were prepared by Rick Cherry, Holston Conference treasurer, and Roger Redding, Holston Conference Foundation director, Roe said.
The purchase price is below the appraised value ($11.25 million in 2015) because it was negotiated by a now-deceased member of First United Methodist Church of Sevierville, who was on the bank’s board, Roe said.
“It is so important for us to be united together on this,” Roe said. “This is not an opportunity for us to be divided.” He asked for “prayerful consideration” to purchase the building and for clergy to “look at this with fresh eyes.”
During a question-and-answer session, eight clergy asked questions and made suggestions regarding a wider sharing of information; balloon payments; leasing prices for different groups; securing a place for the Espiritu Santo congregation; using interest from Foundation fund earnings; and staffing costs.
Opportunities to learn more and ask questions will be made available through Pre-Conference Briefings to be scheduled throughout the districts this spring, Roe said.
Contact Annette Spence at email@example.com.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.