White Rock United Methodist Church opens 14,000- square-foot unused basement to businesses in need
By HEATHER NOEL
When Lydia Varela was looking for a place to keep the inventory of her fledgling mobile thrift store, she couldn’t find anything in her price range.
“Warehouse space by myself, I would not be able to afford it,” Varela said.
At The Mix Coworking and Maker Space housed in the basement of White Rock United Methodist Church, Varela found a storage spot that fit her budget. She also made connections with a seamstress and retail professionals who could give her advice to help grow her business.
“The connections, the conversations, the mentoring and the advising — it’s really priceless,” she said.
Facing stagnant membership, White Rock UMC senior pastor Mitchell Boone wanted to find ways to repurpose underused parts of the church while generating revenue to maintain the building.
“For the longest time we were told as a congregation ‘You’re dwindling in numbers ... You need to sell your property and either merge with another church or relocate to a smaller space,’” Boone said.
Boone didn’t want to resign to that fate.
The church partnered with the Promise of Peace Community Garden in 2013 to transform part of the back parking lot into a community garden and started opening up bits of space for tango and Tai Chi classes.
But its 14,000-square-feet basement remained mostly unused.
Boone got the idea to refashion it for coworking after learning about similar spaces such as The Grove in Dallas’ West End.
He said the church invested about 15 percent of the capital and the nonprofit Missional Wisdom Foundation took care of the rest.
So far, improvements have included new furniture and a fresh coat of paint.
Soon, Boone hopes to transform a Sunday school room into an audio and video lab. Plans are also underway to upgrade the basement’s kitchen into a certified commercial space where caterers can prepare feasts or chefs can host cooking workshops.
“It’s a very lively space. There’s a lot going on, but if people need quiet and privacy we have little nooks and crannies where you can go do that,” said Daryn DeZengotita, who was one of the founding members of The Grove, and whose title at The Mix is “catalyst.”
For $75 a month, coworking members can use The Mix part time. Full-time Monday through Friday access comes with a price tag of $150 per a month. Members who want a dedicated space for up to two people, unlimited conference room access and free locked storage pay $375 per month.
The Mix welcomed its first paid members in October. Currently, membership sits at about 15-20 members.
From a sewing collective made up of African refugees to a children’s theater group and mobile professionals looking to add social interaction, the church’s coworking space has attracted a wide array of people.
“That’s why we call it The Mix, because our idea [was] that we could appeal to such a cross section of the neighborhood and the community. We were right. It’s happening,” DeZengotita said.
The Mix offers weekly events open to help people build relationships such as its potluck lunch on Wednesdays and Social Media and Pancakes on Thursdays.
Varela’s space comes rent-free in exchange for working part-time for The Mix. She hopes to work with the African refugees at The Ahadi Collective, across the hall from her space, to help repurpose clothing in her inventory.
Boone believes the coworking model can help the church become more entrenched in the community. But he doesn’t expect those coming in the door to show up for Sunday worship.
“We are really open to bring that community into our building not as a bait-and-switch type of deal, but literally just to say, ‘Look, we’ve got all this extra space. We want your passions to be realized and found and then acted upon,’” Boone said.
He said making those investments in people is part of the church’s mission. He’s hoping White Rock UMC will stick with coworking for the long term and maybe be a lesson to other churches looking to rethink their unused buildings.
“I think one of the saddest parts about the decline is not that fact that people are leaving the church,” Boone said. “I think it’s that these buildings are taking up valuable resources and spaces within communities and we’re not treating them with the potential they have to actually be transformed into those communities.”
Digital Communities Coordinator Heather Noel can be reached at 214-977-8715.