CEDAR RAPIDS — Martin Dwyer and his board of directors have decided to buy a church in the struggling yet aspiring Mound View neighborhood and move their Mission of Hope there despite vocal opposition from some who live nearby.
The decision comes when others might have given up the idea after the cold, even hostile reception that Dwyer and the mission’s supporters endured last Thursday night as Dwyer, a minister and former banker, explained the mission’s plans in the face of neighbors who told him they were sure that the mission would bring crime, crowds of street loiterers and a blow to home values with it.
Dwyer said he and his board met for almost three hours subsequent to the Thursday evening neighborhood meeting to digest what they heard, and he said they decided that neighborhood fears were understandable, but that fears are different from facts.
“The facts are never as bad as the fears,” the 52-year-old Dwyer, the mission’s executive director, said.
He said key facts are these;
The 10-year-old Mission of Hope has improved its current operation at a storefront in the 1500 block of First Avenue East, a block with plenty of street pedestrian traffic, hanging out and police calls that have nothing to do with the mission. Any bad or criminal behavior on First Avenue East isn’t apt to follow the mission into Mound View. And for its part, Mound View is struggling with its own crime issues, plenty of police calls and dropping property values.
“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think, ‘Is this a neighborhood I’m ruining?’” Dwyer said. “…I think as we get there, people will see that we are really going to be an asset., not a liability.”
He pointed to three missions on the city’s west side — The Salvation Army, the Olivet Neighborhood Mission and the CrossRoads Mission — that sit in residential neighborhoods and have had great success.
Dwyer said the Mission of Hope will close on the purchase of the church at 1700 B Ave. NE on Aug. 18, and after some renovations, expects to move its programs, including its free, six-day-a-week lunch program, there by Oct. 1.
On Sunday, Carol Sindelar, president of the Mound View Neighborhood Association, said she was surprised the mission was moving ahead after Dwyer earlier had said that the mission would push ahead only if it“can reach a peace” with the neighborhood.
“We’re not mad, we’re frustrated, ”Sindelar said. “He’s willing to gamble, but it’s our future that he is gambling with. I understand they want to give it a try, and that’s really fine. But the people most impacted, whether it works or fails, are the neighbors who have had no say.”
Clark Rieke, an active member of the association and one who is especially concerned about a hit to property values, said the City Council should make some commitment to Mound View in general and particularly so if the mission moves into the church.
Rieke has called on the city to improve community policing, intensify housing inspections on rundown houses, take action on abandoned and foreclosed houses and provide more housing rehabilitation funding.
Sindelar promised that the neighborhood association will ask the City Council to modify its zoning ordinance to give future neighbors a voice and the city a vote the next time a similar church-related matter crops up.
As the mission moves in, a church congregation that now leases the building on a month-to-month basis, Living Waters Kingdom Church, will move on.
The mission, which Dwyer said is supported by some 300 Eastern Iowa churches and 900 individuals, initially looked into buying the B Avenue NE church in February, but backed off as the Living Waters group was attempting to purchase it. Subsequently, the mission was invited to make an offer when the church did not follow through on the purchase, Dwyer said.
He said he expected the community and neighborhood groups to use the sanctuary for gatherings and concerts, and he said the summertime Hope Fest celebration likely will find a home there.
The church also has plenty of office space, which he said will be available for other organizations that help the community and the needy. The local correctional services department operates a high-risk parole and probation program out of the church now, to which no one in the neighborhood has objected to in the past, he said.
The mission expects to do some work on the church’s large basement meeting room so it can also be used as a gymnasium for youth groups. And yes, the Mound View Neighborhood Association will still be welcome to use it for their monthly meetings, Dwyer said.
Among the concerns of some Mound View neighbors is that the population that the mission serves with free lunches, a food pantry and a used-clothes program will linger outside the church and will smoke in front of houses.
Dwyer said the church will allow the mission to serve all 150 or so who come for lunch at the same time, unlike at its First Avenue SE storefront, so people won’t have to wait outside for others to get done eating. The storefront is smoke free, but Dwyer said the mission will use an interior courtyard at the church to allow smoking to allay worries that mission clientele will be on the street smoking, he said.
Dwyer said, too, that not all who use the storefront mission will be walking from outside the neighborhood to the church for a free lunch and other services. According to the mission’s data, one fourth of its clients come from the Mound View area and nearby to it in northeast Cedar Rapids.
“Look at much of A and B and some of C and D avenues NE and you see a great need for what we do,” Dwyer said. “…And it’s their neighborhood, too, And we believe by treating the people we serve, that we’ll build a cadre of supporters for reforming the neighborhood.”
As he told the Mound View Neighborhood Association last Thursday evening, Dwyer and his wife, Rose, will move into Mound View, likely close to the church, in the months ahead. After the meeting, six members of the neighborhood have volunteered to work at the mission, he said.
As for those most against the mission’s move, he asked that they “patiently bear with me” and keep an eye on him and the program.
“… We’ve tried to get away from the emotions, … figure out what we could and couldn’t do carefully and then commit to moving forward, knowing that we had not minimized anyone’s fears but that we were ready to address them all,” Dwyer said. “Whether they believe we can do that or not, I’m fully committed that we will do that and we will make them believers over time.”
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