Although the neighborhood surrounding the D.C. Convention Center is not a populous one, it includes several churches of varying denominations that may now change their plans for the future as a result of the development around them.
These churches count as their members residents of Maryland and Northern Virginia as well the District. They come from families that, after the riots of 1968, moved out of the area, yet continued to keep ties with friends through their church, according to William Moreman, a minister at the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ at 10th and G streets NW.
While the advent of the convention center has changed long-term plans for several churches, it also has given rise to some rather earthly temptations for owners of these valuable properties. The Rev. Watson Herbert Jr., an associate minister at the Asbury United Methodist Church said, "We're sitting on prime property. Some churches have been offered money" for their properties.
In addition, other churches have approached developers about commercial use of their land. Moreman said his church is looking into the possibility of "incorporating various uses of a building. It could be a residence or an office building in conjunction with the church. . . . to make use of the value of the land."
He added that this is "just one of the options we're looking at. It's all in the speculation stage. We could do it within a few years. We would work out financing." Moremen explained that his church may be interested in "talking with architects and developers who may have sensitivity" about combining commercial and church properties.
Homer Christensen, business administrator for Calvary Baptist Church, said the church may develop extra property. Plans for development are about five years down the road, but they may include tearing down buildings on an adjacent lot Calvary Baptist owns and building a commercial building with underground parking, he said.
Parking has been an overriding problem since the convention center opened. Many of the commercial lots to which churches had free access on Sundays are no longer available to them, Christensen said. He added the greatest parking problem occurs when conventions are open to the public.
"Parking lots that were closed on Sundays are now open and charging. We've encouraged car-pooling and public transportation" for members that live outside the District but "people are getting discouraged. Some people may leave" the church, Herbert said. Christensen added that Metro has not helped his church's parking problem, because the subway doesn't open until 10 a.m.
The convention center has spurred some churches to undertake better programs to keep parishioners and also to draw visitors. "We're looking at making more special events" Herbert said, and also working in conjunction with hotels "if we can work something out."
While new programs are in the planning, others may be endangered. First Congregational, for instance, has a dinner program for homeless women five times a week, but Moreman is concerned that it may not attract as many people if development forces the homeless to move north.
Most churches do not expect immediate membership gains from the convention center. Christensen said that, until the hotels are built, church attendance most likely will not benefit. Herbert also said he "anticipates possibly picking people up as visitors" from conventions.
Fr. Charles Gorman of St. Patrick's Catholic Church said, however, that the church's Saturday evening mass attendance seems to have grown, adding that "something may develop, depending on how many hotels and restaurants are in the area."