Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Stranger: Mars Hill has eye on property already purchased by Sound Transit and a short history of MH with municipalities and zoning snags

Mars Hill Bible College

Part of this vision includes opening a Bible college. Recently we sent out proposal requests to the best Bible colleges in the U.S. with the intention of partnering with one of them to establish an accredited Bible school at Mars Hill Bellevue. We want to provide sound theological training for your children as we raise up the next generation of leaders and church planters.

Mars Hill has been attempting intermittently to set up a seminary for years.  Nobody has been paying attention to that very closely in blog land but the Capstone Institute started up by Gary Shavey was an early attempt circa 2005.  It petered out for some reason.  In 2009 there was that big public roll-out for the Resurgence Training Center and the Master in Missional Leadership degree (more on that later).  But it took about two years for that class to wrap things up and the program never got continued.  There's a lot we've been meaning to write about that project for some time and it's worth noting that Mars Hill Bible College may be at least the third attempt by people at Mars Hill to set up a seminary.  So far Mars Hill seems to have been striking out in getting together the right, stable combination of resources and funding to get a seminary off the ground.  But they're going to keep trying, obviously.  That job opening for a Bible College Director got posted within the last month or so.

Unfortunately we find ourselves in a position where we are going up against the government. Given the perspective, we are a small church with little chance of being able to make the government change their decision. However, we will continue to move forward with faith in a God who is bigger than any government. A God who rules a world that bends to his will. We believe that God wants us to have this property, and we will continue to be obedient to his call.

So ... it would appear that Mars Hill wants to move its corporate HQ from Ballard to Bellevue and it'd like to pick up some real estate in Bellevue as a future HQ but the trouble seems to be that the ideal real estate was already bought by Sound Transit.

The Stranger's Brendan Kiley writes:

If you take Mars Hill's word for it, the big, bad government stole their prize lollipop. But that lollipop was never Mars Hill's to begin with. The closest they come to staking a legitimate claim in any of their PR is to say they "made a generous purchase offer." So they've got money. But nobody seems to want to sell (to them, anyway). And they're pissed.

They made a generous offer?  Who would "they" have been?  Driscoll has alluded to Sutton Turner working on important deals here and there could this have been one of them?  If so how could a generous offer have been made seeing as Mark Driscoll told Mars Hill earlier this year "We're not a wealthy church".  Apparently however not-wealthy Mars Hill Church was Mark and Grace Driscoll were able to purchase a million-dollar home in the Edmonds area (and the real estate has been transferred from Future Hope Revocable Living Trust to the Downs Family Revocable Living Trust).  The Future Hope Revocable Living Trust was based in a mailing address that is the current corporate HQ of Mars Hill Church.  The Snohomish County Auditors Records search made it relatively easy to work out that the Driscolls bought a million-dollar home during the period of 2012 in which Mark Driscoll plugged the congregation to give a bit more generously in May and then, in June, said that Mars Hill had been pursuing a fiscal model that was not good for its long-term future and that this had been fixed.  Precisely how pursuing a fiscal model that was leading to systemic deficits at every single campus was not something Driscoll ever deigned to explain.  Systemic deficits for a family would be explicable by poor financial stewardship but for a nimble team of three or four executive elders that's ... something else, apparently.

The Stranger has reported, "Sound Transit says it bought the property for $23 million. We don't know how much Mars Hill offered for it."

Well, unless they were trying to leverage some heavy-duty donors nobody knows about, Mars Hill could not possibly have beaten that bid given what financials are made available.  In a feature piece on Sutton Turner the Mars Hill budget is listed at $30 million. That's kind of a bigger budget than the Union Gospel Mission or Salvation Army Northwest Division have been having the last few years in the wake of the 08 housing bubble.

But Mars Hill hitting unanticipated snags dealing with real estate isn't new.  Just last year Mark Driscoll posted a video announcing that Mars Hill Orange County had been served an eviction noticed and wondered what the deal was.  Anyone who looked into that matter would have seen that eviction coming in advance. 

Or consider the $1.5 million purchase of the 50th Street building back in 2005, the current corporate HQ of Mars Hill (and of Future Hope Revocable Living Trust, still?), was scouted out by Pastor Jamie Munson, the zoning and licensing issues weren't considered prior to purchase. 

When the grand vision Driscoll touted in the closing chapters of Confessions of a Reformission Rev turned out to be impossible given the reality of zoning and licensing restrictions on the 50th Street real estate multi-site emerged as an alternative vision of future growth.  There lay the path of grandfathering in Doxa as Mars Hill West Seattle with the backing of Bill Clem and James Noriega (Clem's wife was dying of cancer during the period when Doxa was apparently on some kind of decline (reportedly) and Driscoll had wanted that real estate for Mars Hill since 1996, it was win-win as deals went).  Tim Beltz was Chief Operations Officer at CHRISTA Ministries and somebody (nobody has said who) brokered a deal in which Mars Hill Church got to use Schirmer Auditorium for free.  After Tim Beltz stopped being COO of CHRISTA he became executive elder at Mars Hill in 2007 after Munson's by-laws (the ones Meyer and Petry got fired for not supporting) got voted in in late October. 

The final branch in the three-pronged development of initial multi-site was buying Tabella.  Munson would go on to say it was bought for a million less than it had been valued at even though externally searchable valuations suggest that Mars Hill paid more like a million MORE for the property than it was being valued at at the time.  Munson also asserted that the bylaws that got voted in were to address multisite and that the older bylaws didn't address this.  In fact there was more language in the old by-laws prior to 2007 dealing with campus teams and leadership than in Munson's bylaws, which concerned themselves chiefly with a smaller and consolidated executive elder team with lifetime memberships.  It's simply not tenable to claim, as Munson did, that the bylaws voted in in 2007 seriously dealt with the multisite approach MH was embracing unless by this one meant a smaller more consolidated power base at the executive level.

Make no mistake, Mars Hill is very serious about real estate expansion and capital development

There are job openings for

Capital Development Manager
Bible College Director (of course)
Chief Sales and Marketing Director (still open after a few months?)
Leadership Development Director
Account Manager ,Ministry Leads
General Editor
Account Manager, Expenses
Account Manger, Income
Discipleship Curriculum Writer, Bellevue
HelpDesk Technician

and a few other job openings, but that's a LOT of Central Operations job openings.  The desire on MHC leadership's part for a big expansion seems relatively easy to propose.

And anyone with any roots in non-profit development in the Puget Sound area can propose that it would make sense to move everything to the Eastside.  Wenatchee has surmised that had MH not diluted its donor base too soon and too early to keep Ballard fiscally solvent a move to have the Eastside developed could have happened years earlier.  It's not like The Vine wasn't being assimilated into Mars HIll around that time, a core group was there, wasn't it? 

Finally, take a gander over here

There's about six or seven campuses listed there. If The Stranger wants to do any kind of follow-up they might want to contact these folks to see if they'll answer any questions about the history of MH real estate purchases since possibly half of the campuses (campi?) seem to have passed at some point through this company's hands in some way.


Anonymous said...

"The closest they come to staking a legitimate claim in any of their PR is to say they "made a generous purchase offer."

Of course, that was kept a secret from the congregation and the elders of Mars Hill, just as with previous clandestine real estate deals. But then, that is one reason why the bylaws "needed" to be changed so frequently - so that large financial transactions, revocable trusts, etc. could be pursued in an atmosphere of non-transparency without causing any church members, elders, or staff to sin by "questioning."

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

MH notes local coverage, minus The Stranger's articles.

MH has corrected its earlier account that the real estate was seized by eminent domain. That means that Mars Hill has had to concede its earlier account of events was factually untrue.

MH, unfortunately, seems to have a PR team that gets them into more rather than less trouble in local coverage. Let's remember The Stranger pounced on MH and Justin Dean when it turned out that contrary to public claims MH had not even applied to liase with Lifelong AIDS Alliance.

So when MH says that Sound Transit seized property by eminent domain and then corrects itself after The Stranger and other local news outlets follow up it doesn't look good for MH PR. They come off as obfuscating and misrepresenting, whether by intent or imcompetence, what has been going on.

It's an open question what the current bylaws of Mars Hill look like. Munson's bylaws were written in such a way that he was legal president and not Driscoll. Driscoll said in early 2008 that having Munson as legal president was great because it meant Driscoll no longer had to deal with so many conflicts of interest. Did those conflicts of interest disappear so that Driscoll could resume legal presidency? What sorts of conflicts of interest did Driscoll have prior to 2007 that Munson's bylaws and presidency eliminate? Or did Driscoll really have a clear idea what he meant when he said that his being legal president of Mars Hill involved conflicts of interest?