A church, sport form partnership

Covenant Baptist and a soccer association both sought new homes and built them on same site

September 17, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the Sun

The Rev. Dan Crow knows the location of his newly constructed Covenant Baptist Church is unusual.

"I think we're unique in that we're on leased land in the middle of a sports complex," the pastor said.

But he also believes that the church's agreement with the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County has been a blessing.

"It allowed us to give the community something it really needed," he said. "It needed to give the kids a place to play."

The church, which will be dedicated Tuesday and is scheduled for a grand opening Oct. 1, is on Centennial Lane in Ellicott City, on land now known as Northrup Fields at Covenant Park, which has been developed as eight playing fields for the nonprofit soccer club.

The arrangement has solved major problems for the church and the soccer association, allowing both to stay in Howard County. SAC, founded in 1978, had been struggling to find space to play so it would not have to keep bouncing from one county park or school system field to another.

The soccer association, which serves about 6,500 players ages 4 to 19 in clinics and teams, was ready to start looking outside the county.

"Our back was against the wall," said Jim Carlan, chief executive officer of SAC. "We had been looking for property for five years."

Meanwhile, the church had likewise been looking for a place to establish a home. It had been holding services Sunday mornings at River Hill High School and working out of rented offices on Oak Hall Lane in Columbia.

The arrangement was far from ideal, Crow said. The school was rented only from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., so that meant setting up and tearing down quickly each week. And, he said, the wooden seats made an annoying clacking sound.

The story of how the church and SAC joined forces began in 1992, when the church's founding pastor, the Rev. Dana Collett, purchased the 123-acre parcel. The land lay undeveloped for years, mainly because Covenant Baptist did not have enough money to build a church there, Crow said.

When Crow came to Howard County from Pittsburgh in 1998, a priority was figuring out how to make use of the "undeveloped asset," he said. He knew the church would have to become a partner with another organization, either selling or leasing land, to raise money.

In 1999, David Procida, vice president of SAC, called the church "looking to lease the land from us," Crow recalled.

At the time, the church had been working on a plan to put 100 units of senior housing on the site, which would help it raise revenue and still give it enough room to build its church. But that plan met with substantial community resistance, Crow said.

"I was very frustrated because I felt a church should not be adversarial in the community," he said. "When we began to talk to SAC, I began to realize this might be God's answer for us."

In the end, SAC did not lease the land. It bought it. The agreement called for the church to sell all its land to SAC for $1.15 million, which was well below market value, even in 2001. SAC bore a large portion of the infrastructure costs, including construction of a long road into the park that alone cost a million dollars.

And the church leased an 8-acre parcel for a dollar a year for 60 years, renewable for 30-year terms at $100 a year for the next 30 years and $200 for the 30 years after that. Crow said members of the church supported the move to sell the land. "This stuff doesn't really belong to us anyway," he said.

The plan met with hardly any community resistance, Carlan said. Soccer and religion seem to go well together. "We want Covenant Park to be a place for healing the mind and the body," Crow said.

SAC built eight fields, with room to build two more in the future. And the church also has room to expand if necessary.

"It was a good deal for us," Carlan said.

"And it was a good deal for us," said Crow.

As the men spoke, they were sitting on the stage of the church's sanctuary. The SAC office is across the parking lot, but Carlan had not seen the church's progress recently. Though boxes still needed to be unpacked and walls still needed additional paint, the building was almost ready for occupancy.

"Very nice," Carlan said, admiring the soaring sanctuary, which seats about 380.

"You think?" Crow said.

"I think," replied Carlan.

The sale allowed the church to pay off its debts and set aside money to start a fund for the 23,000-square-foot building, which cost about $2.5 million to build. Ground was broken about a year ago.

Meanwhile, the soccer fields have been in use since Memorial Day in 2004. The complex, which cost about $5 million, has benefited from a long-term sponsorship from Creig Northrop & the Northrop Team, a Clarksville-based real estate business. Several fields have artificial turf and are lighted for night play.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.