Published in Nonprofits
First Baptist Church at 315 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo. First Baptist Church at 315 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo. COURTESY PHOTO

Nonprofit to transform historic Kalamazoo church as new owner

BY Sunday, May 09, 2021 04:05pm

KALAMAZOO — The Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition has taken ownership of the 168-year-old First Baptist Church downtown and seeks to raise millions of dollars for renovations and expanded programming.

After years of declining membership in the church’s congregation, First Baptist Church last month gifted the roughly 30,000-square-foot building to the coalition, known as KNAC. The nonprofit is in the first phase of making critical structural repairs under a $280,000 budget.

The second phase involves a potentially $3 million capital campaign for a full renovation that would give more flexibility for the leased spaces and cater to organizations’ specific needs.

“A big theme of the building is shared use,” said KNAC Board President Dann Sytsma. 

Current tenants include theater groups, a dance studio, artist workspace, offices and several nonprofits. First Baptist Church also continues to worship in the space.

The church currently has about 20 tenants, which could increase to about 60 after the planned renovations, according to Sytsma.

For decades, the church has been a “very arts focused congregation,” Sytsma said, noting the transfer to KNAC was a natural fit.

“It started being excessively expensive for them to keep up the building,” said Sytsma, who’s artistic director for Crawlspace Comedy Theatre, which leases space in the church.

KNAC formed in 2017 to manage the building and start attracting arts and community-focused tenants.

“It was becoming more apparent that KNAC would be a better owner of the property to guide everything it was going to be,” he said.

Based on KNAC’s structure, it currently remains unclear whether the property or portions of it will return to the city’s tax rolls, according to Sytsma.

But the building’s location and KNAC’s focus on accommodating community-minded organizations creates opportunities for groups that might not otherwise be able to afford to operate in prime downtown space. Officials hope to complete the $3 million renovation by 2025.

“We’re building a culture and something that people are really going to be excited to go to for their work,” Sytsma said. “There isn’t really anything else quite like it downtown.”

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