This has been the most difficult and unrewarding eight months of ministry in my life. Personally, I have been referring to it as the season of “buildings and bucks” because I have been acting as more of a general contractor and fund raiser than a college pastor. Every day the first thought that I have when I wake up and the first prayer that I pray in the morning has been related to our new building.
Since 2006, we’ve had the privilege of leasing a wonderful building right across the street from the University of Texas, which serves as Campus Renewal’s Headquarters and UT’s Campus House of Prayer. After eight years and countless hours of prayers and worship in this space, our landlord informed us last May that we would have to move out in 2015.
Thus began the season of buildings and bucks.
This is more of a personal blog, describing this season of my life. I thought it might be therapeutic for me. So many friends, family, and ministry partners have been faithful to intercede for me. I thought they might enjoy this story too.
Summer Search (June and July)
I will admit, this was the only fun part of the process. It was fun to prayer walk the campus and look for places for lease. What made it difficult, however, is the fact that there are so few places for lease. Most available spaces near campus were either too big and expensive or too small for our purposes. We did find a few possible fits, but were told by the landlords that they did not want to rent to a non-profit.
The space we ultimately found was simply perfect. We found it during our Campus Renewal Conference, which we hosted at UT last summer. Ironically, it is right across the street from where I worked for four years while a student at UT, the Hardin House Dorm. After the conference, I called to inquire about the space. I had several conversations with the leasing agent before we met in person. When we met in person, it became clear that he thought we were a real estate company looking for office space. That may have been the only reason he was able to meet with us in person!
Lease and Legalities (August and September)
The first thing we had to do was convince the agent and the landlords that they should be willing to lease to a non-profit. This space is part of an enormous building that is literally the size of a city block. It’s a vertical mixed use with apartments above and business on the ground floor. We would be the only tenant not selling something.
We used this to our advantage, however, promising that the hundreds of students who come in and out of our building each week would only benefit the many businesses in the complex. This argument, a letter of recommendation from our previous landlord, and a look at our financials (all public records) tipped the scales. The said yes, and then the real negotiating began.
This part was a real beat down, because it is done (in my opinion) in such a worldly way. After a month of haggling, we finally settled on how much we would pay in rent. Then the real fun began when we were sent a 42-page lease filled with “leagalese.” Thankfully, Campus Renewal has a wonderful volunteer lawyer who helped us wade through everything. “Red-line” leases were passed back and forth from more than a month before we finally signed the lease with the expectation to move in December 1st, after construction.
Contractor and Quotes (October and November)
I forgot to mention this important detail. The building was empty, just a shell. We were responsible for building out the space. The most difficult negotiation of the lease was related to the amount of money the landlord would reimburse us for construction. We settled on a number, hoping it would be enough, though we did not have bids on construction.
Another one of Campus Renewal’s wonderful volunteers is an architect, and he had already designed a plan for us. However, when the bids started coming in, they were literally $100,000 more than what we had negotiated by way of reimbursement from the landlord. I was shocked and, honestly, very scared. I could not raise that kind of money.
We made many compromises to the plans to make it cheaper and at the last minute found a contractor who had a much cheaper quote and promised to do the work in 4-6 weeks. We also went back to the landlord to ask more money for construction. It was a long shot, since we had already signed the lease. We boldly held our ground, threatening not to move in unless they increased it. To our surprise, they did.
Hurry Up and Wait (December and January)
If I was not way in over my head already, I surely was now. This was the largest financial risk I had ever taken. We still had to raise a lot of money and needed to get loans from the bank and from people just to get underway. We were sure there would be complications in the construction and increased costs, and there was almost immediately.
Overall, the contractors were great to work with. They were honest, fast, knowledgeable, skillful, and they cared about what we wanted. They even had an incredible ability to expedite permits and inspections, which is not easy to do in Austin. Still, there were periods of waiting. The biggest problems were with the building itself (the landlord’s problems, not ours).
These delays were frustrating because we had just received a letter from our current landlord informing us of the date by which we had to be out of our current space, and as of December 1st, we were going to have to pay rent at both places. I called our current landlord and asked (since we had been great tenants) if he would be willing to let us forgo paying rent in December and January, and he gladly said, “Yes.” Amazing!
We hoped to be in by January 1st, but the delays continued. Ultimately, we ended up having to pay for Temporary Certificate of Occupancy in order to move in and set up before classes started on January 20th the same day as our final inspection with the city.
A New Season for Campus Renewal
Here we are. We’re in our new space as of this week, and the season of buildings and bucks has come to a cheerful end. Actually, I still have a lot of work to do on that “bucks” part, but I enjoy that at least.
This is a new season for Campus Renewal, and in God’s sovereignty so many things are coming together at the right time.
Obviously, we have a new building.
All of our national staff are in Austin now, sharing this office space.
We’re launching our new national prayer movement. https://www.campusrenewal.org/join-the-movement/
We have a new logo and new website. https://www.campusrenewal.org
At the end of this semester I will have worked with Campus Renewal for 20 years. I believe this season of buildings and bucks will set us up for the next 20 years. Now… let’s get to doing some real campus ministry!
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.