The sale of Knox Church will allow the continued use of the heritage building

The Knox Presbyterian Church congregation has approved a deal that will see the historic building sold to a developer who promises to maintain and revitalize the historic building while keeping it open to both the congregation and the community.

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The future of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Stratford looks a little brighter this week after a deal was signed that will see the church sold to a developer who promises to maintain and revitalize the historic building while keeping it open to both the congregation and the community.

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Knox church officials announced on Thursday that a letter of intent from BMI Group’s Urbanistyc development company has been approved by the church board, its trustees, the church redevelopment task force church and its congregation. This letter of intent involves both the sale of church property and a plan to preserve the beloved heritage building.

“A building is always meant to be used, and Knox has always been a building used on many days of the week, not just Sundays,” said redevelopment task force chairman Allan Rothwell. “It has the potential to open it up in terms of community use even more substantially than before, and (for that) to be a real gem at Stratford’s center for arts and culture, and spiritually too.

“We see this as a win-win-win. It has to make the end result work for the developer and that’s why they’re going to take the time and look to see what possibilities they have in terms of redesigning the site.

Over the past few years, the Knox Church community has worked with BMI Group Managing Director Paul Veldman and the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective to research ways to maintain and improve the building while preserving its history as a hub of worship and performance. good.

As the church’s congregation has dwindled over the years, its financial resources have also dwindled. As with any historic building, the need for ongoing repairs and maintenance gradually became more expensive than the congregation alone could manage.

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As part of this agreement with Urbanistyc, the developer has committed to making further investments that will make necessary improvements to the exterior of the building, as well as some basic building code issues inside. , including a number of Church Sanctuary upgrades. At the same time, the agreement allows the Knox congregation to rent space for worship, programming, outreach, and other community needs.

The Stratford Arts and Culture Collective, meanwhile, has also partnered with Knox and the developer in recent years in hopes of converting the church sanctuary into a modern performance space for community arts groups and artists. independent.

“It’s an opportunity for us as a community to have another place where the arts, especially from a community perspective, can be showcased. … There are a lot of possibilities in this space. It’s fine the way it is, but it can be great with renovations and acoustic treatment, and some flexibility in how it can be used,” said collective co-chair Ron Dodson.

“We have these plans in the back of our minds. Now all that’s left to do is make sure the sale is made.

Although Veldman could not be reached for comment on Thursday, architect Michael Wilson and Urbanistyc have already presented early designs for a condominium-style residential development at the largely unused north end of the building.

“We are excited to begin work on this project in earnest,” Veldman said in a press release. “Our next steps are to work with Knox and (the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective) to define the different uses of the building, begin to adapt the structure for more shared uses and add more facilities to serve the incredible artistic community of Stratford.”

The redevelopment task force also worked with the Trinity Centers Foundation — a pan-Canadian charity which, according to its website, helps preserve, restore and repurpose underused churches — to identify other redevelopment options.

If all goes as planned, the sale of Knox Church to BMI Group will close on June 30.

Originally built in the 1840s and rebuilt in 1914 after a massive fire destroyed much of the building, Knox Presbyterian Church stood on the corner of Ontario and Waterloo streets for most of the ‘history of the city.

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Laura J. Boyer