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Million-Dollar Condos, With a Soup Kitchen Below

The church's Meg Maguire says the plan lets the congregation put its land to use for the public good.
The church's Meg Maguire says the plan lets the congregation put its land to use for the public good. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)

"You don't need the soup kitchen to make it a tough sell," Klein said. "It's a tough sell because it's a condo, and if there's anything we need less of now, it's condos. It's like overkill. There must be five years' worth of supply in the pipeline."

First Congregational United Church of Christ, which has 100 active congregants, has been looking for a way to build a new headquarters and approached PN Hoffman two years ago.

The church was founded in 1865 on its half-acre and claims to have been the District's first racially inclusive congregation. The original stone building fell into disrepair and was torn down more than 45 years ago. The congregation replaced it with a three-story brick building that resembles an elementary school with a steeple.

First Congregational had been hoping to rebuild because its current quarters are antiquated and inaccessible to the disabled.

"It was going to take a lot of money to retrofit the building, and what would you have at the end of the day? An old building, which is not what we need," said Meg Maguire, chairman of the church's site development task force.

Maguire declined to disclose the details of the arrangement but said the developer will build a $17 million, 350-seat sanctuary, plus offices, dining area and meeting rooms. It will also refurbish its organ.

Although congregants voted to support the deal, Maguire said many members are emotional about moving to a nearby church until 2010, when their new sanctuary is scheduled to open.

"When you share a life together in a place for many years, when that changes, of course we all feel a certain sense of grief," Maguire said.

But, she added, "it represents an opportunity to put our principal asset, which is our land, to its best use, for the public good."

Besides its meal program, which it established in 1979, First Congregational offers job and housing counseling to the homeless. She said she expects the church and the condo owners to blend well.

"The beauty of the city is that all kinds of people live and find meaning in the city -- that's what our church is all about," she said. "It's about space for everybody."

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