Mars Hill Church headquarters to move to Bellevue

A growing following within Mars Hill Church has compelled the religious organization to seek sanctuary outside of Ballard for its headquarters, and Bellevue's International Paper building is its preferred destination.

"There are not many places that are really big enough to meet the needs in the area," said Justin Dean, church spokesman. "As of right now, I don't really think we have any other options."

It's not just a need for a new headquarters space, but also the church's expectation of expanding its flock and future plans to start an accredited Bible college, all in one complex.Mars Hill's Bellevue location at the old John Danz Theater started with a congregation of about 1,000 in 2011, Dean said, and last week's Sunday service had about 2,500 attendants. That number is expected to at least double in the coming years.

The church has targeted the International Paper Company's corrugated container plant, which closed two years ago, as the only viable option at this time, as its plans for a new church, college and base of operations will require up to 200,000 square feet of space.

But the International Paper building is not for sale, since Sound Transit purchased the property earlier this year as a protective acquisition should studies find it to be an ideal site for a maintenance and operations satellite facility. Sound Transit's East Link plans are to extend its light rail here by about 30 miles in the next 10 years.

While Mars Hill Church claims in a news release that the transit authority seized the property using eminent domain, Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said a mutual agreement was made to purchase the International Paper site through negotiations and not seizure.

As Sound Transit works to expand light rail, which means adding to its fleet, Patrick said there needs to be a facility where those vehicles can be serviced. International Paper is one of four sites being evaluated and factors into two options for a maintenance and operations satellite facility.

Purchasing the Bellevue site makes sense for Sound Transit, said Patrick, as it had been identified as a viable location for a maintenance facility and could have cost more money to purchase in the future had International Paper sold to someone else.

"If we don't use it for the maintenance base, it's not like we're out that money, because we can just sell it," he said, adding Mars Hill Church would have to enter a competitive bidding process, the same as any prospective buyer.

Dean said the church is in a wait-and-see pattern currently, but is exploring other options with the hope of staying within Bellevue's downtown corridor. The promise of light rail is actually one reason Mars Hill likes the old plant for its complex because of the higher volume of traffic it will bring in, he said.

"We hate to be so picky with so many demands for a property," said Dean, "but really that's just the opportunity we've been blessed with to need such an enormous space."

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