By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Armory is about to have a whole new mission. Soon, the stately building on Oakes Avenue will be a Mars Hill Church.
Once home to an Army National Guard tank battalion and for decades a place for military drills, it has long done double duty. It’s been a wrestling arena, dance hall and dog-show venue.
The Seattle-based nondenominational church is buying the armory and hopes to begin worship there by next Easter.
“We are under contract with the state of Washington for the purchase,” said Justin Dean, communications director for Mars Hill, which now has evangelical churches in four states.
The purchase and sale agreement is scheduled to close Nov. 26. That date could be extended to as late as Dec. 31, said Stefanie Fuller, acquisition and disposal manager for the state’s Department of Enterprise Services.
The Everett Armory, at 2730 Oakes Ave., was listed as surplus property with the state’s Military Department on May 3, with a fair market value of $1.275 million.
Since the summer of 2011, Mars Hill Church has met for Sunday worship at Everett Community College’s new Fitness Center.
“It has been consistently over 600 people each Sunday since we started,” said Scott Mitchell, lead pastor at Mars Hill Everett. “We had 845 people for this last Easter.”
Shortly after the launch of the church here, Mitchell learned from a Herald article that the old armory building would likely be sold.
“This is where we wanted to be. We love Everett,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been praying for over a year now to get into this building. The city could use the boost on Sunday. It would be a blessing for downtown Everett, moving into the heart of Everett.”
It took more than prayer to make the deal possible. The timing was just right. The Herald reported Sept. 17, 2011, that two Washington National Guard units that had been stationed at the armory were moving to the new Armed Forces Reserve Center at Smokey Point.
Capt. Keith Kosik, a public affairs officer with the Guard, said the old building cost too much to maintain, and no longer met the needs of 20 full-time employees and 300 citizen-soldiers who trained there.
As far back as a year ago, the 1921 building designed by Seattle architect Louis Svartz was being advertised online for rent or lease. With two stories plus a basement, it has an 11,000-square foot drill floor, a kitchen and classrooms.
The space once used for drills is in for a major makeover.
“That big open space will be our sanctuary. We will transform that room. The sanctuary will be an 800-seat auditorium,” Mitchell said. There will be sound equipment, carpeting and other finishing touches, and upgrades allowing access for disabled people.
“It will be effective space for worship — a gathering place. We’re in the process right now of raising money so we can get in there,” Mitchell said.
Church members will be asked to help pay for the extensive remodel. “We really want our people to own what Jesus is doing here in Everett,” Mitchell said. “About $300,000 moves us in. We could do services there. We’re hoping and praying to be in there by Easter.”
Dean, the Mars Hill spokesman, said the church now has 14 locations. Beyond Western Washington, there are Mars Hill churches in Portland, Ore., Orange County, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M. Outreach magazine, a Christian publication, has listed Mars Hill among the 100 fastest-growing churches in the country.
Popular with young people, Mars Hill is growing to serve the communities where its churches are, Dean said. “Every Mars Hill is a little bit different. We’re trying to reach the demographic in that particular location. It’s not just younger families, but we have a lot of them,” he said.
Mitchell said Mars Hill has more than 26 community groups that meet during the week in the Everett area. “They gather in homes, discuss the sermons, and eat meals together,” he said.
A big building offers more opportunities for worship, he said.
“Currently, we have two Sunday services, one at 9, one at 11:15,” Mitchell said. “With our own space, we probably would have one in the evening as well.”
Diane and Phil Poirier used to travel from Marysville to Seattle’s Ballard area to attend Mars Hill. When a Mars Hill Church opened in Shoreline, their drive wasn’t so far. They now live in Everett. “It’s less than a mile from home,” Diane Poirier said.
What Mars Hill offers is a church “completely centered on Jesus and the word of God,” she said. “It’s solid biblical teaching.
The big new building is “so exciting — it’s so cool,” Poirier said.
“Phil and I have a lot of meetings in our home,” Poirier said. She hopes the new church will have rooms for midweek Bible studies and other classes.
“We’ve been praying and praying for this,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.