Friday, May 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Patience saved historic sanctuary

Combine the tenacity of the congregation and leadership of First United Methodist Church with the creativity of Seattle developer Nitze-Stagen and the result is a big win for architectural preservation.

Kevin Daniels, Nitze-Stagen's president and chief operating officer, is credited with the vision, generosity and patience to craft a deal that works for history, development and the mission of the church. Last Sunday, church members unanimously voted to accept a proposal that spares their historic downtown sanctuary from the wrecking ball, and provides for a new home at Second Avenue and Denny Way in Belltown, with room for a new church, social-services facility and parking garage.

For many anxious and critical observers, the sale of the terra-cotta domed church at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street was about the fate of a grand piece of Seattle history and architecture.

For the Rev. Dr. Kathlyn R. James and church members, the issues were always more complex. They were committed to continue a 150-year presence in the heart of Seattle and perpetuate their urban ministry. This is a community of faith that has been feeding, sheltering, supporting, nursing and listening to the downtrodden among us for decades.

Two focused groups were talking right past one another. King County Councilman Dow Constantine changed the conversation when he brought Daniels and Nitze-Stagen into the discussion. The company had transformed Union Station, turned the Sears building into a world headquarters for Starbucks and revitalized the Cadillac Hotel.

Unlike those who had looked before, Daniels saw an opportunity to develop the downtown block and save the sanctuary. The site will preserve the domed church, the Rainier Club, provide open space and leave room for a 40-story office building.

Plans call for auxiliary church buildings to come down fairly quickly, and church operations to be consolidated in the structure that houses the sanctuary until a move in September 2009.

King County and the city of Seattle are helping with financial grants that make the transition possible. The county is providing $500,000 to help sustain valued outreach programs. The National Historic Trust is investing money to make the development deal work.

The patience of the church and its building committee is not to be underestimated. They were willing to rethink their future when Nitze-Stagen offered a different view. Seattle is richer for it.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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