Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Troubled Belltown nightspot to become evangelical church

Seattle Times staff reporter

The go-go dancer is gone, but her platform still stands inside a shuttered Belltown nightclub.

With Bible in hand, the pastor of a new downtown evangelical church climbed the ladder Monday just to see if the platform could be used as a pulpit to preach redemption.

Mars Hill Church expects to close a $3.95 million deal on Thursday to acquire the property at 2333 Western Ave. and open its downtown church sometime in January, pastor Tim Gaydos said.

Edwin Mirsky, a real-estate agent who represents the seller, said a tentative deal was struck with Mars Hill Church.

Mars Hill Church was founded in 1996 by Mark Driscoll, a nationally known evangelical Christian pastor, author and speaker. With some 6,400 members, the church holds services in nontraditional spaces in Ballard, Wedgwood, West Seattle, Redmond and Shoreline.

The theologically conservative congregation tends to be young, family-minded and creative, and includes filmmakers, musicians and artists, said Gaydos, 33.

For two years, the red brick building on Western Avenue was home to Tabella Restaurant & Lounge, whose promoters advertised dance parties with women in lingerie. The club, which had a capacity of about 400 people, attracted large crowds and was cited by police for noise and fights involving intoxicated patrons in and around the premises.

The state Liquor Control Board planned to revoke the club's license this month after a police sting that resulted in allegations Tabella staff served a minor, overserved liquor and allowed in a patron carrying a concealed gun.

Ariel Sanderson, who lives in the nearby Belltown Lofts building, said she and other residents were worried a new nightclub would open.

"We're definitely relieved it's not a club," Sanderson said. "It'll be interesting to see what Mars Hill does with the space."

The new church will be a block from Mars Hill Graduate School, which is not affiliated with it. The graduate school began in 1997 as a branch campus of Western Seminary and is now an independent evangelical training school.

The church had been looking for a downtown space for a long time and wasn't turned off by the history of the Tabella property, Gaydos said.

"The fact of the matter is that everyone who did go to that club or those who come to our services are looking for the same thing — happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment," Gaydos said. "We just think it's found in Jesus, not in booty calls."

Gaydos said his church accepts the Bible as perfect and "without error."

Along with Sunday services, the church wants to create a venue for Christian art shows and concerts, including indie rock, electronica and hip-hop music, he said.

"The church used to have the best art in the world back in the day," Gaydos said, referring to the 12th century.

Mars Hill Church funded the Paradox Theatre, an all-ages dance venue in the University District, which opened in 1999 and closed in 2003.

In recent years, several downtown churches unable to stop a decades-long decline in membership have sold to developers. Mars Hill hopes to reverse that trend.

"Instead of dead and dying churches in this city, we'll have vibrant congregations," Gaydos said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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