Westwood agrees to lease church it owns for short-term, but secular groups can bid as well

The former Westwood Christian Church property was purchased by the city and now is an integral part of planning for the future.
The former Westwood Christian Church property was purchased by the city and now is an integral part of planning for the future.

The former Westwood Christian Church that is now owned by the City of Westwood has attracted some interest from congregations that might want to lease the building for the short-term, but the reason for choosing a lease partner must be secular, the city’s attorney said Thursday.

The city agreed to purchase the church building and property along Rainbow Blvd. in early 2014 after Westwood Christian closed its doors. The church property is pivotal to future plans for the city because it adjoins Dennis Park and Westwood View Elementary School. The city has just started work on a comprehensive plan. A task force from the Urban Land Institute earlier had included the church property in a suggestion for redevelopment of the area, including the Entercom property, which is directly across the street from Westwood View.

The majority of city council members said they would be agreeable to a short-term lease of the church building to offset some of the costs associated with the property. Mayor John Yé said the inquiries the city has received so far are from churches proposing a one to two year lease. Councilors want to retain ownership of the property because of its role in future development, but indicated a short-term lease would be acceptable while the comprehensive plan is being completed, estimated to take several months.

Westwood City Attorney Ryan Denk said the city can lease the building to a church, but the criteria and reason for awarding the lease must be secular. “It needs to be objective,” Denk said. That is one reason the city will want to openly market the property or have a Request for Proposals (RFP) so secular groups could bid on a lease as well as church congregations, he said.

The council agreed to develop terms for an RFP that will include a level playing field for proposals to be vetted.