Posted in projects
on June 30, 2017 2:19 pm EDT
Case Study: Site Selection and Shape Shifting
Follow the journey of Elevation Church's transformation from a 12-plex movie theater into a new satellite campus.
The transformation of the Palace Theater, built in 1998, to Elevation Church's 1,200 seat auditorium, lobby, EKids, church office and AVL Suite also revitalized a troubled neighborhood. / Launch gallery (in new window)
[Editor's note: From the 2015 project archives.]
When my family and I moved to the Lake Norman area in 1995, there was one movie theater, located in Cornelius, the next town north. As the area exploded, first one, then a second theater opened—only about a mile apart.
The Palace Theater was built in 1998 to meet the entertainment demand of the fast-growing community, a suburb area north of Charlotte, N.C. It was a 12-screen theater with stadium seating and an Egyptian motif interior design.
"We want to impact the Lake Norman area so powerfully that if we were to go away, people would grieve and realize something was missing."
—Josh Blackson, Operations Pastor and Uptown Campus Pastor, Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC
The “Palace” was located at the end of a 100-acre, mixed-use development, with the only major anchor tenant at the far end. There were several business and restaurants, but they, too, were located at the opposite end of the development.
In a move to solidify market share, the nearby competing theater, part of a large chain, bought the Palace Theater and promptly closed it down. Not too long after, the anchor at the other end of the development closed as well.
What had once been a thriving, growing development was now quietly dying.Vision and direction
In 2004 I transitioned from a church staff position to a title as consultant for a church design-build company. Over the next six years, I worked with four different church plants in the area to consider the Palace as their permanent location. All were viable candidates, and each had a different vision for the facility. The most interesting was to work with the local YMCA and open an “Express Y” in half [of] the building, with the other half [being used] by [a] church.
At various times during this period, church leaders, architects and engineers would accompany me on a tour of the empty theater. The previous owners had left in a hurry—popcorn boxes, movie posters, and boxes of paper cups were scattered around the concession area. The building itself was in sound shape; it was only missing people to make it come alive again.
The owner was reluctant to sell the theater, though, especially to a church, it seemed. One church came closest when the pastor’s wife flew cross-country to meet with the owner in California—unannounced. It was a cordial meeting, but the result was the same: no sale.
As the months turned into years, the building slowly began to decay. It occupied a poorly lit, unmanaged corner of the development. And the only notice it got was of the wrong kind.
After being vacant for so long, the Palace Theater was now attracting unwanted attention through vandalism, under-aged drinking, and drug use. In 2010, the local town officials issued an ultimatum to the owner: find occupants for the building or tear it down.