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611 was meant to be for Immaculate Conception

Jay Thorndike, Father Martin Schratz, Jim Welter and Jack Fitzpatrick lead planning and fundraising for Biz611 and Immaculata School improvements. Jay Thorndike, Father Martin Schratz, Jim Welter and Jack Fitzpatrick lead planning and fundraising for Biz611 and Immaculata School improvements.

 Biz611, named for its 611 N. Church St. address, was first occupied on June 11, 2012. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, now the second owner of downtown’s most environmentally sustainable business property, moved in to its new space on June 11.

With so many 611s afoot, one might posit that either numerology or divinity accounts for Immaculate Conception’s path to the purchase of a new building right next to the church. Father Martin Schratz puts his money on divinity.
“Part of the master plan of the parish was to expand because we’re running out of space,” Schratz said. “They ended up putting a for sale sign here, somebody saw it and things started moving.”
The church now has 9,500 square feet of space, room that it badly needs given the fact that its ministries have nearly doubled, to 113, over the past five years. The church has just under 2,000 families enrolled — a total that does not include hundreds of Hispanic families who worship there and are hesitant to officially sign up.
“We were running out of meeting space because the congregation’s growing and we were in the mood to try and find somewhere new and we combined with the school,” Schratz said.
Immaculate Conception this past weekend launched a $2½ million capital campaign — $1.5 million to pay for Biz611 and $1 million for Immaculata School, which serves 140 students in grades K-8 and has grown by about 40 percent in recent years. The $1 million construction plan for the 57-year-old school building will bring it into ADA compliance, improve security, increase energy efficiency, upgrade electrical systems and lighting, remodel restrooms and replace heating and air conditioning systems. The church had no choice when it came to safety and security upgrades. The Charlotte-based diocese recently announced that it would require the improvements at all the parochial schools.
The church has a year to plan how it will use Biz611, which opened in 2012 and was designed by architect Ken Gaylord for owner Jonathan Butler, a software developer from Charleston, South Carolina. The church will honor the leases of 18 tenants currently in the office building, and expects to collect an estimated $100,000 in rent until next September.
“It’s giving us time to evaluate our programs and what would be best for them,” Father Martin said.

Ministries out of room


Covering everything from prayer to bereavement, children’s services, substance abuse counseling, landscaping and Sunday coffee hour, the ministries have outgrown the meeting space available in the current facility. A team surveyed leaders of the ministries and found that the church members felt squeezed for space for ministry meetings and storage, had been bumped from rooms when there were conflicts and forced to meet late at night when space was free. A master plan drafted by Jack Fitzpatrick and other leaders envisions using the new space for those ministries and for Faith Formation, Life Teen and other youth programs, including a nursery. With 450 elementary-age kids in its Faith Formation program and 95 in ninth grade confirmation, Immaculate Conception would be the envy of many mainline churches struggling to attract young families.
The new building has been renamed the St. Joseph’s Center.
“The parish is dedicated to Mary and St. Joseph’s her husband,” Father Martin said. “But it’s also a very popular name, Jose, in Spanish. Joseph is popular in the English tradition as well as it is in the Spanish tradition so it’s something that would appeal to everyone.”
Looking decades ahead, church leaders thought that buying the property next door and upgrading Immaculata at the same time made sense.
“It’s part of our own parish looking at our needs and also with the school building trying to take care of what we have,” said Jim Welter, who cochairs the Faith Grows Here capital campaign with Jay Thorndike. “Expand and bring things up to code because that’s what we see as the future.”
The church lays out the reasons for the capital investment in detail in a brochure.
Father Martin and other church leaders had just left a meeting about the church’s growth and future needs. “As the group walked down Sixth Avenue a man was placing a for-sale sign on the Biz611 building,” the brochure says. “The Lord does speak if we only listen.”
Church leaders got in touch with Butler, who they said “always had a place in his heart for Immaculate Conception.” He agreed to sell for under his asking price and under market value. The sale closed in June for $1.95 million.