Friday, May 31, 2013


NEDCO converted the sanctuary of the old First Baptist Church into The Marketplace @ Sprout! (all photos by me)
I recently learned a great deal about NEDCO, the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation.(1) NEDCO is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and became Oregon’s first community development corporation when it was formed in 1979. Its mission is to collaboratively build human and capital assets to strengthen neighborhoods and broaden community ownership and governance. NEDCO fulfills this mission by helping neighborhoods and families build assets through home ownership, neighborhood revitalization, and business development. 

Sprout! is one of NEDCO’s many success stories. Sprout! is a community food hub project that brings together a commissary kitchen for rent, a year-round indoor/outdoor farmers market, and business services all under one roof. What intrigues me about that roof is that it happens to belong to the former First Christian Church in downtown Springfield. 

The exterior of the former First Christian Church

I was somewhat familiar with the First Christian Church building because a few years ago I was part of the Robertson/Sherwood/Architects team charged with designing the new Springfield Justice Center across the street. I was aware the church’s congregation was dwindling and pondering its future. I did not know NEDCO purchased the building from the church. I’m very happy NEDCO did. By doing so, they’ve given new life to an architecturally significant and historic landmark in Springfield. 

NEDCO hired Arbor South Architecture to imagine the repurposing of First Christian Church. Firm principals Bill Randall and Dan Hill responded by situating the indoor component of the farmer’s market in the lofty church sanctuary, and placing Sprout!’s new community kitchen in the former fellowship hall. Arbor South took full advantage of the opportunity presented to them by NEDCO. They bestowed Sprout! with a functional and commodious home, while preserving a familiar and memorable part of the urban fabric. The members of First Christian Church wanted their building to remain a community resource; the new Sprout! fulfills this wish. 

Sprout!'s floor plan (Arbor South Architecture)

Wisely (and perhaps compelled by a limited budget), Arbor South chose to avoid substantial new gestures that would have appreciably altered the character of First Christian Church’s architecture. While a good but not outstanding example of its type and era(2), the original design’s timeless use of light, proportion, and space fulfilled its ecclesiastical functions and the needs of worshipers well. These distinctive attributes now provide Sprout! with a character all its own, a unique branding that will agreeably serve it and NEDCO’s mission. 

I’m increasingly appreciative of the concept of reinventing our food systems through localization. Food hubs like Sprout! are valuable because they provide the social and physical infrastructure to connect local buyers and sellers. They offer facilities for farmers to store and process, market, and distribute local food. According to Sprout!’s website, a 1% increase in our local food production and consumption would keep millions of dollars circulating here in Lane County. Keeping it local strengthens our region, our farmers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs. 

Sprout! is truly using food to grow community. Its 3,000 s.f. certified commercial kitchen is the solution for businesses in need of additional production capacity. Whether it is a food cart looking for prep space or a local farmer interested in creating value added items, the new kitchen has all the equipment necessary to assist getting their products ready for sale.

Sprout! also offers food business development services. Its menu of services includes business plan development, financial analysis, brand/marketing strategy, operations management, recipe development, and nutrition analysis. It is a business incubator focused on the needs of the food industry in Lane County, providing technical assistance, one-on-one help, group education workshops, affordable office space, and access to financial resources.

The new commercial kitchen facility available for use by emerging businesses

Unlike specialized and industrialized agribusinesses, local farmers wear many hats. From planting and raising animals to harvesting and marketing, the local farmer is often faced with more than a full time job. Food hubs like Sprout! support small-scale, family farming while helping to meet the increasing demand for local food.

The creation of Sprout!, which opened its doors last October, is truly a feel good story, a classic win-win situation: downtown Springfield retains an architectural landmark at risk of being lost, which becomes the home to a vibrant community food hub. Kudos to NEDCO and Arbor South Architecture for making it happen. 

My wife and I visited the farmers market at Sprout! this past Friday. We not only thoroughly enjoyed strolling the aisles of produce stands but also the opportunity to find our dinner there and among the variety of locally owned food carts that park alongside Sprout! The market operates each and every Friday from 3:00 to 7:00 PM, year-round regardless of the weather. If you haven’t already done so, check it out.

(1)  Ted Corbin is the current chair of NEDCO’s board of directors. Ted cajoled me to be a member of a design panel charged with evaluating applications for NEDCO’s grant and no-interest loan program associated with private improvements along downtown Springfield’s Main Street. It was from Ted that I learned about NEDCO and the fantastic work it does in the Eugene-Springfield community.

(2)  Percy D. Bentley of Eugene was the architect for First Christian Church. He designed the church in a Norman Gothic style. W.H. Shields was the general contractor and completed the church in 1948 at a cost of $120,000.


air conditioning repair Las Vegas said...

What a great discussion! I'm so delighted to find other people who care about this topic, which I've been puzzling over for a while. Thanks

Lee Calisti said...

nice project, great to see such a nice adaptive reuse.