Most middle-aged children who go to church have probably once sat in a Sunday school class with their hands tied, index fingers pointing skyward and thumbs touching, while reciting. “Here is the church and here is the steeple. Open the doors and there you go people.

This child’s play is more or less the challenge in an ambitious collaboration between Garvin Design Group, Cason Development Group and Boyer Construction that is transforming a central section of Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood.

Columbia-based architecture firm, property development group and contractor is renovating the former Rosewood Church into a mix of 52 apartments, retail and restaurant spanning more than 57,000 square feet on Rosewood Drive, in the heart of the downtown enclave.

Scott Garvin, President of Garvin Design Group, fielded numerous phone calls from Frank Cason, President of Cason Development Group. When his phone rang about a year ago, Garvin listened to a proposal that he thought was “radical” but also “a really cool idea,” he said. “It’s a trend all over the country, especially in big cities or metropolitan areas where some of these older churches that have been around for a while haven’t made the transition to the new demographics. We’re seeing more plus those big empty churches that can’t afford to buy their real estate.

Rosewood Church, which had occupied the house at 2901 Rosewood Drive since 1937, put the property up for sale in 2019. Soon after, the site landed on Cason’s radar.

“We got a call from a local broker about two years ago now,” Cason said. “He said, ‘Hey, this former Rosewood Baptist Church property is available. Would you be interested?’ I found it on Google Earth and I thought “Yes”. When can we leave? Can we leave tomorrow? … I don’t know why, but I immediately thought, it’s an apartment project. It feels like an apartment building and mixed use somehow.

This vision went in a different direction from those who told him the towering sanctuary, built in 1970, would make a great brasserie or event venue. Cason wasn’t interested in building a sanctuary brewery or running an event venue, but he wanted to bring more density to Columbia.

“Increasing residential and commercial density is really important to Columbia’s growth,” he said.

Once Garvin was on board, Cason’s next call was Boyer’s vice president, Clay Sharpe, who also saw potential in the project.

“It’s definitely a unique structure for us, but like everything, you just put the puzzle together,” Sharpe said. “Garvin did a hell of a job using the space, figuring out how to get what we needed to do to get firewalls and all of that to be up to code. You’ll end up with some really nice high end loft apartments when all will be said and done.

Devil in the details

The first unexpected find was a shrine built with great “structural integrity”, Sharpe said. In other words, unlike Jericho, these walls were not collapsing.

“There must have been a church member who owned a steel mill because there was a lot of steel in it, a lot of heavy structural steel,” Garvin said. “The way the balcony was framed – I’ve never seen a church balcony framed that way. It’s built like a fort. The plan was to rip the balcony up and frame the floor of the apartments, so it was a surprise… We had to regroup a bit on the tracks.

There were also floor leveling issues in the design of the Sanctuary apartments, one- and two-bedroom units that average around 1,000 square feet. They will ring a common area with two larger apartments in the front and back. Forty-nine units will use 45,000 square feet of existing sanctuary and classroom space, as well as a new 13,000 square foot addition replacing an old education building.

“The ability to use the existing structure was a big part of what made this deal work,” Sharpe said. “Construction costs keep going up, and so being able to revitalize a project and use the existing structure is huge. This particular structure had a ton of windows, which for residential is obviously a big plus.

One of these windows is perhaps the most striking feature of the property: the huge stained glass window rising above the balcony, depicting Jesus flanked by a Bible and a crown.

While the smaller stained glass windows lining the sanctuary will be replaced to allow more natural lighting, this will be the window to the world for the occupant of the large front apartment.

“It was a big debate, even in my office: ‘Do you really want that over there?’ … I keep saying, ‘There’s someone out there who would like that,’” Garvin said.

Another hot topic was what to do with the steeple, topped by a cross, which stretches into the sky at the top of the roof.

“It seemed logical to leave him,” Garvin said. “It’s a tribute to a church that has been in Rosewood for a very long time. Why try to pretend it’s not what it was? … We’ve had this conversation for a while – how far do you go so it doesn’t look like a church? The reality is that it is a church, it will always look like a church. You can remove the cross from the steeple, you can cut the steeple, but it will still look like a church, and you will make it worse. So we just decided to work with what was there and make the most of it.

“It’s sort of the roadmap for any historical project. You figure out what it was used for, what it looked like, figure it all out, and try to restore it to its original state.

The apartments of the old church will surround an interior courtyard. Two units will have patios overlooking Rosewood Drive, while two will have patios overlooking a backyard.

Across Sloan Street, three larger apartments totaling 3,963 square feet will be added to a 4,382 square foot mixed-use building that will house a new Starbucks. An additional retail suite remains available, as does another retail building at the rear of the property that Cason hopes to recruit a local restaurant to fill.

This building, although new construction, presented its own challenges, Cason said.

“Honestly, it was a struggle, because we could have just torn it all down and made a standalone Starbucks,” he said. “It would have been a lot easier, but that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to add density.

The Starbucks fitout will begin in March, Sharpe said, with an opening scheduled for May or June.

Although the Sanctuary apartments won’t be ready for occupancy until this fall, Cason said he received 15 to 20 calls asking for a waiting list. Prices have yet to be set, he said, but they will be in line with high-end apartments in the area.

“It’s great how many people have commented on just bringing this to life, bringing this block and a half to life,” Sharpe said.

“It’s certainly exciting to be able to energize this corridor. We hope this will be a catalyst for further developments on Rosewood.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.