2020 Greater Erie Award for Adaptive Reuse
Preservation Erie is pleased to award Grace Church a 2020 Greater Erie Award for the Adaptive Reuse of the old Swedish Baptist Church at Holland and E. 7th Streets in Erie. This award is given to buildings, structures or spaces that are at least 50 years old and have been renovated to allow a thoughtful or community-enhancing reuse that respects the historic character of the site.
The future of the former Lake Erie Ballet building was uncertain when, in October 2017, Erie Insurance and Grace Church announced a unique partnership aimed at reactivating the space. Erie Insurance agreed to lease the property to the church, the building’s original owner, and Grace Church in turn committed to rehabilitating the property over the next year or two with the understanding that, once the exterior work was completed, Erie Insurance would gift the building to the church.
The building holds significance for Grace Church, as it was an early home to the congregation. Founded as the Swedish Baptist Church in 1895 with just 19 worshipers, Grace’s first church building was a house at 7th and Holland. This building was torn down and a new church erected for the sum of $5,650. It was dedicated March 17, 1907. After the passing of a generation or two, the congregation changed the name of the church from Swedish Baptist Church to Grace Baptist Church. Grace moved to Millcreek Township in 1959 when it outgrew its center city location.
The adaptive reuse of the old church building is part of a broader initiative of Grace to serve the greater Erie community by joining in revitalization efforts. An early success for Grace, and an example of the church’s impact in the community, is the founding of ServErie. As the neighborhood revitalization organization focusing on East 6th to East 12th and Holland Street to Wayne Street, ServErie connects people in need with resources like grant funding and government programs. It also utilizes its growing network of 70+ churches, residents, local businesses, 60+ agencies to facilitate community service projects citywide, such as the annual effort to get Erie City schools student-ready for the start of the new school year.
The building at 7th and Holland is transitioning into the Grace Leadership Institute (GLI), a world-class leadership center serving Erie’s religious community. The concept of the GLI evolved from input collected from the community and is an expansion of Grace’s existing leadership training programs.
During 2019, extensive exterior repairs were made to the leadership center, including the repointing and refitting of bricks, repair/replacement of windows, installation of a new roof, and painting. Drawings and plans for interior improvements are nearly complete, and Grace is hoping to begin these renovations in late summer. Once the space is complete, Grace Leadership Institute will offer three floors of classroom and meeting space with varying technologies.
Grace is in the process of designing and constructing classes, courses and certificates for individuals and the business community, interviewing potential bachelor and master’s degree university partners, and talking with local partner churches to develop round tables, classes, workshops and resources for ministry leaders. The plan is to pilot leadership courses in the fall of 2020, and officially launch in 2021 with university partners in place.
With this award, Preservation Erie is recognizing Grace Church’s conversion of an existing historic structure and bringing renewed vitality to the 7th and Holland neighborhood.