The members of a heavily used church on busy Oak Ridge Turnpike have found a new home, part of a neighborhood exodus to make way for a new Kroger Marketplace shopping center in the heart of the city.
Members of the Oak Unitarian Universalist Church had agreed in September to sell their current building and 3.6 acres at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Robertsville Road in a deal arranged by commercial developers Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial.
On Wednesday, roughly five months later, congregation members announced they had purchased a 4.6-acre parcel at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Laboratory Road, in front of the Joe L. Evins Federal Building.
The 260-member congregation expects to be in a new building at the site by Thanksgiving 2014.
The church’s current property could be used as outparcels, or small lots, at the new $30 million shopping center.
ORUUC has been located at the Robertsville Road site—a serene, wooded tract in the center of Oak Ridge—since 1956.
After the September vote to sell, a site selection team researched available sites in Oak Ridge, and the congregation approved the selection of the new site in front of the Federal Building in January. That property is in east Oak Ridge near Laboratory Road.
In a Wednesday press release, the church said it continues to grow in membership and impact, including through a community ministry, music-based outreach ministry, and public events.
“Of course, relocating the church building has been an enormous undertaking, and an emotional one for this community,” said the Rev. Jake Morrill, church minister since 2003. “We are using the process not only for the opportunity of constructing a new building on a new site, but also to clarify our mission for the 21st century, and to grow in trust and the strength of love.”
The 25-acre Kroger shopping center could open early in 2014 at one of the city’s busiest intersections at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue. It will feature a 113,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace and 12,000 square feet of small shop space, as well as four to five small lots with unidentified tenants.
It will replace a neighborhood of about 55 homes, two hotels, a restaurant, day care center, and church. The first home was moved from the neighborhood in January.
The Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church congregation was established in 1950, launched its first building campaign in 1956, and finished a project in 1997 that expanded its current building by almost one-third and added a sanctuary that has been widely praised for its beauty.
Note: This story was updated at 6:31 p.m.