Dr. Jim Miller didn't have to look far when it came to finding a new home for the youth ministries program at downtown's First Presbyterian Church.
Miller, the church's pastor, was already a member of the nearby Powerhouse Gym when that building's owners put it on the market. And because his church was looking to relocate its youth ministries in order to free up space in its Bernsen Building for other community programs, it seemed more than a little serendipitous that the gym property, located at 223 E. 8th St., would be available.
First Presbyterian wound up buying the building and accompanying parking lot. An extensive renovation followed, and the former Powerhouse Gym--now just the Powerhouse--was dedicated in September. The cost of the project--property and renovation combined--was $2.7 million, Miller said.
"It was a massive renovation of the facility," Miller said. "It looks a lot like it used to, but it's been a comprehensive renovation."
The Powerhouse now has a new entrance, located on the west side of the building, and several rooms designed for a variety of purposes. A café greets visitors in the front, complete with booths, tables, bar and a fountain, as well as an area to the side equipped with a TV, sofa and chairs that is designed for adults.
Three rooms line the south side of the building, each of which is designed for the church's middle school, high school and university student ministries. A game room is equipped with two billiards tables, two foosball tables and table tennis.
"The game room has already been a huge hit with kids and parents alike," Miller said.
But the Powerhouse's crown jewel is a large special events center at the northeast corner, a space that used to serve as the garage when the building was home to Jim Norton Buick. The room is capable of serving as the host site for large concerts, which it already has done. Miller said Nashville singer-songwriter Amy Stroup performed at the Powerhouse in September in the building's first major event.
"This place was electric," he said. "There were kids all over the place."
First Presbyterian also acquired an adjoining 60-space parking lot with the building, an important addition for any downtown congregation, Miller noted.
Most of the facility boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, which--combined with its predominately open floor plan--gives it a bright, airy feeling and makes it look far bigger on the inside than it does on the outside.
While the Powerhouse is designed to be a fun place, Miller said there's a higher purpose at work in the move to the new facility.
"Our kids are there to cultivate faith and live in the most fruitful way possible," he said. "We have not had a space like this, really, to be able to dedicate to our middle school-, high school- and university-age students."
The opening of the new facility has given First Presbyterian a considerable amount of free space in its Bernsen Building, which Miller said will be used for the common good, perhaps as an academy for troubled students, once that facility has been renovated.
The newly reopened Powerhouse--which is approximately 18,000 square feet--also serves as a bright spot in an area of downtown that has not seen as much rejuvenation as other districts in recent years.
That factor is particularly pleasing to Miller.
"It's exciting for any downtown congregation to make an investment that's driven by a love for the community," he said. "We live in a culture that is virtual life, a lot of times, and real life gets lost."
Miller believes the Powerhouse, as a gathering spot for both young people and their parents, will help combat that trend.
"And we'll encourage that to spill out into the community, for Tulsa's sake," he said.
Miller has no doubt the Powerhouse can fulfill that goal.
"We've already seen how a (building) can facilitate a gathering of students with that Friday night concert," he said. "Kids came down here in droves. It's a safe place, but it's actually separate from the church grounds, so it has that cool factor, too."
Miller believes the Powerhouse is good for the city of Tulsa because it will root entire families--many of whom attend services at First Presbyterian while driving from Owasso, Broken Arrow and South Tulsa--to downtown.
"It enables relationships to dig deep and develop, and it establishes, truly, a community," he said.
Miller hopes the members of his flock won't ignore what they see when they travel downtown to attend services.
"We're within a one-square-mile radius of some of the most impoverished areas of Tulsa and some of the wealthiest parts of Tulsa," he said. "I hope we have a congregation that realizes we are blessed for a reason. The needs of this city are right at our doorstep."
As Miller points out, a congregation such as his at S. 7th Street and Boston Avenue has an entirely different set of opportunities and challenges than one in south Tulsa. One that comes to mind right away, he said, is his congregation's recent acquisition of the former St. Elizabeth's Lodge downtown, which Catholic Charities sold as part of its upcoming move to another location.
A nonprofit group set up under the auspices of Miller's congregation will continue to operate that building as a transitional housing facility for women and children who have become homeless, calling it the Lindsey House. The building features 10 to 12 apartments, and First Presbyterian members will be adopting the families who live there. Miller said members of the group already are at work developing job training programs and coming up with employment fairs that could benefit residents, as well.
Additionally, the children who live there will be welcome at the Powerhouse, he said.
"They will have a fun place, they will have a safe place, where they are going to be encouraged and they're going to have friends," Miller said. "That's all possible partly because of where we're planted. We will make a real impact on families."
As for the name of the facility itself, Miller said it was a relatively easy decision to modify the old moniker, once First Presbyterian officials got a sense of the place.
"The nomenclature was liked," he said. "It's a testament to the power that can happen in a facility like this that can change human life."
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