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Edwardsville Church Votes for Sprawl

November 27, 2006 Metro East, Religion, Suburban Sprawl 13 Comments

Edwardsville’s First Presbyterian Church voted a week ago yesterday to begin construction of a new larger facility on a large tract of land on the edge of town, next door to a mega church. For decades the church has been located in a very cute neighborhood just blocks from Edwardsville’s Main Street and literally around the corner from the Post Office. From their website:

First Presbyterian Church was founded March 17, 1819. It has the distinction of being the first church organized in the city of Edwardsville, and one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in Illinois…. Construction on our third and current home of worship took place in 1924. A large Christian education annex was added in 1960. Several improvements including the elevator, and a covered courtyard called “The Inner Room” were completed in association with the 175th Anniversary celebration in 1994.

Apparently some years ago the church purchased a 30 acre tract of farmland on the outskirts of town  as an investment. Indeed, the land has increased in value as expected but now a faction of the church wants to relocate to the sprawling edge- to be more “visible” in the community. With a vote of roughly 90 to 68 they’ve decided to begin the process of building a new church and apparently make plans for a gym. Visibility in the community no longer means being in the midst of a neighborhood in the center of town where a pedestrian might be alble to hear your service as they pass by but on a busy road where motorists can read your flashing sign from hundreds of yards away. Some look at sprawl and auto-centric development as a reaction to poor inner-city schools and white flight, but neither are the case in Edwardsville where they have a single school system and are nearly 90% white (87.7% per 2000 census data). So what explains all their sprawl? Auto-centric development has become completely ingrained in our society from homeowners, business owners, developers, bankers, architects & engineers to elected officials. Sprawl is the norm. What does it say about our society when a church votes to leave a charming neighborhood adjacent to an equally charming small town main street? Normal Rockwell would paint a picture of the current setting but wouldn’t go near where they plan to locate. Sadly, all the moves to the edge are ruining what was a picturesque landscape. I’m certainly not going to tell people what sort of faith to have but I will question the motives of a church for leaving the place where they’ve been for decades simply for a big parking lot, a gym and visibility on the scale of a fast-food restaurant. Churches have an important role as part of the community, not helping destroy the community by bolting to the suburban fringe. I talked with a couple of the members just days before the vote, they were hoping to stay put. Some members of other nearby Edwardsville churches were also lending support as they collectively want to strenghten the core of Edwardsville rather than see it left behind as sprawl engulfs the nearby farmland. I hope those that wish to stay in the center of Edwardsville do so, including their money. The suburban group may not be able to raise the $3.8 million they need to build their gym with attached santuary (in phase II). Update @ 8:10am — By the way, I forgot to mention that FBC’s architects are St. Louis Design Alliance which has offices on the Delmar Loop near the MetroLink stop.


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. sprwaled says:

    For local versions of the above story, check out St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox in the CWE
    or CBC High School.

    Both have moved to be closer to the base of their membership.

    [UrbanReview – Well, Edwardsville is local too. But, these are good examples as well. Funny how all these groups leave an area and then look back and say, “See, look how bad it is. Glad we got out.” Of course, they don’t stop to think what things would be like if most simply stayed.]

  2. sprawled says:

    Hey Steve,

    Did you pick out the security words? Are you trying the power of suggestion on us posters?

    Hey, in defense of STL Design Alliance, they do good urban projects too. Gotta pay the bulls, you know.

    And re. St. Nicholas, they haven’t moved yet. Hope I wasn’t being prescient!

  3. john says:

    Maybe they know that God prefers cars over people? Or perhaps worrying about being religiously green is too inconvenient for a small majority? The swing vote was only 12 members, interesting.

    Maybe Sprawl should be spelled with a capital S? Sprawl is worshipped in the StL area… honk if you believe in God!

  4. Brad Mello says:

    Uh-oh — now you’ve taken on God. What I find interesting is that the Church is perfectly willing to spend 3.8 Million (if they can raise it) on a new Church — seems that money could be spent on something a bit more helpful for the community.

  5. Steve,

    You need to review St. Charles.

    Although its hard to critique an entire subregion of suburban hell, its worth looking into, since this area is stealing residents from the inner core.

    Yes, St. Charles is literally walking into St. Louis County and the City, clobbing residents over the head with the promise of a bigger home, sedating them with marketing once they wake, and sealing the deal with “lower crime.”

    Perhaps review the lack of urban design and point out small areas of hope.

    Anyway, you are not getting paid, yet we appreciate the results.

  6. Andrew says:

    i’m heartbroken to hear this. the church is in my neighborhood. i walk my dog past it every morning.
    it sits next to a beautiful old school building. our neighborhood is the best part of edwardsville. walkable to
    anything you may need. great old houses. and TONS of churches.

    sunday is a busy day in the neighborhood with 5 churches within 3 blocks of eachother. what a shame when
    a neighborhood asset doesn’t want to be a part of the neighborhood anymore. whats worse is the empty
    church building that will be sitting at the intersection.

    i’m feeling sick.

  7. Matt says:

    So if I read this right they’re building a gym and then the church is the second phase. I’ve been to Edwardsville to visit the College and it is an odd town, with the way it’s set up. For one it’s suppose to be a college town but the campus is completely disconnected from the town. Then if you go driving around that town all it is, is a small central main street, and the rest is big box stores as usual. Also Dierbergs just moved into that town. And just in case you didn’t know Dierbergs calls themselves a St. Louis Grocer, but they have no stores or any jobs that I know of even in St. Louis City.

  8. Randall says:

    Ouch! I spent my youth at that church, first heard the Sex Pistols there during a lock-in and had my first cup of coffee there. Most baffling about this turn of events is that they’ve got a big, contiguous parking lot in the back into which they could expand. My mom, who’s still a member and has been a deacon there, is going to get an earfull.

  9. Andrew says:

    “For one it’s suppose to be a college town but the campus is completely disconnected from the town.”

    i hear this a lot, but the town has been around longer than the university by several orders of magnitude. siue was originally developed as a commuter campus and was not even within the incorporated boundaries until quite recently. as such, i don’t think there was ever an intention for edwardsville to be a college town so to speak. to deride it for failing to be that which it was never intended to be is a bit of a strawman.

    “Then if you go driving around that town all it is, is a small central main street, and the rest is big box stores as usual.”

    this is just false. perhaps you should get out of your car. also, fwiw, the city is approving plans for new 3 building mixed use development in downtown edwardsville – retail at streetlevel, loft-style residential above – which i’m particularly anticipating.

    Randall, you’re right, they do have a parking lot in the back on which they could expand. of course, i’m sure they don’t want to sacrifice it. i’m not sure what the on-street parking situation is at their intersection, but i’m not aware of any restrictions.

  10. Michelle says:

    I think that its really sad that the pastor spent a whole sermon talking about how the church should move. WHEN, the pastor should have been giving a sermon about god. I agree, the money should be given to the community. Anyone who has attended this church knows that the church is less than half full every sunday. Building a new church will NOT change this. Having a new pastor and administration will change this. Parking is not an issue at this church because no one attends anymore. 1st pres should spend more time opening then doors to the community and making the church a more “family oriented” church versus spending the money on a bigger church that is just going to look more empty.

  11. ex-stl says:

    gotta agree with Michelle (on principle anyway – never been there myself)

  12. Comment back to Andrew says:

    Ya so you mentioned the mixed-use proposal that Edwardsville has on the books. Did you know that they actually have to give special permission to build those buildings becasue they don’t meet present day building code. And if it was really mixed ‘Urban’ use of land, the proposed buildings wouldn’t have as much lot parking, but on-street parking which that part of Downtown Edwardsville lacks. Also if it were really an Urban design they wouldn’t be putting in a Drive-thur pharmacy at that Walgreens.


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