Church and private school growth could help fill void of event venues

Population growth in Central Texas is driving demand for more event venues in Cedar Park and Leander.

Organizers of private or nonprofit events—such as parties, weddings, children’s classes or nonprofit board meetings—may find more venues because of new church and private school construction. However, business owners and chamber of commerce staffers must often look near both cities for space to host large banquets, business seminars or training sessions.

Tony Moline, president of the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce, said the city has sufficient space for smaller meetings but few venues are available for larger gatherings, such as conferences.

“[Conference] space is something that is in demand in Cedar Park,” Moline said. “We do not have a venue for a big gala or banquet and if we had a conference it would be difficult to host right now, but I think that is something that many people are working on. I am hopeful we are close to being able to attract a business that could handle larger events.”

One new facility for weddings and private events, Ashton Gardens, is planned to open by January 2017. The facility will include a 4,000-square-foot chapel and a 14,000-square-foot reception building northeast of the intersection of Bagdad Road and Lakeline Boulevard.

Bridget Brandt, president of the Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, said that nearly every day the chamber receives requests for large meeting locations in Leander.

She said the chamber may recommend event venues outside Leander.

“Planning is always a little bit of a challenge because obviously our first choice would be to have something in Leander,” Brandt said. “We’ve got a lot of great choices around us. … But it’s always a challenge for the [chamber] committees. There is no option for us here.”

Church construction

Brandt said corporations may struggle to find space for events, but other event needs—such as weddings, quinceaneras and nonprofit meetings—find more space at area churches.

“Today the churches are doing a really great job in meeting that need,” she said.

More meeting space is on the way as churches build new facilities in both Leander and Cedar Park. By this spring, New Hope First Baptist Church in Cedar Park will open a 16,038-square-foot building expansion with new space for children’s classes. On Jan. 24, LiveOak Church moved into a new 5,000-square-foot building on South Bagdad Road in Leander, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Caz Minter. LiveOak will make its building available for other uses, such as meetings of a nonprofit mothers group that draws 500 participants, Minter said.

In 2016, two churches will start their first buildings. In Cedar Park, Fellowship Bible Church will build a 33,700-square-foot facility on 22 acres on Parmer Lane. In Leander, Hope Lutheran Church is building a 10,000-square-foot facility on 6 acres on CR 175.

Hope Lutheran’s pastor, the Rev. Brad Kerkow, said the building could become available for non-church purposes.

“Making the new space available for rentals is not our main purpose,” he said. “However, we are very interested in serving our community with the new facility as opportunities present themselves.”

Hill Country Bible Church’s pastor, the Rev. Peter Horn, said 600 people attend services at HCBC’s leased space. Each month the church receives many requests to host other meetings, he said.

“We hosted several Christmas parties [in December] and one [party] for a martial arts group,” Horn said. “We’ve hosted the city’s Christmas party for their employees. We’ve hosted the Leander Police Department’s Christmas party for their employees.”

In February 2014 the church bought a 19-acre property on San Gabriel Parkway. The church owes $100,000 on the land and will pay off that amount before beginning a building project, Horn said.

“When we design our building for San Gabriel Parkway, we’ll be thinking not just about what we need but about what the community needs,” Horn said. “We anticipate in the next two to three years that we’ll break ground on something, but we don’t have a positive date.”

Leander United Methodist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Ray Altman, said the church donates space each week to three Boy and Girl Scouts troops and rents the sanctuary and fellowship hall for weddings and family gatherings. However, the church must often turn down requests to rent the church building because of scheduling conflicts.

Altman said he hopes the church can better become a “third place,” or gathering place, for the city.

“We acknowledge that a church doesn’t fit the ‘neutral’ criteria for a third space for everyone because of its religious affiliation,” Altman said. “But we want churches to be safe, accessible, useful spaces where our community can gather to build relationships, have conversations, and work together for the betterment of our city.”

School construction

Nonprofit groups often rent public and private school venues for meetings.

For example, six newly established churches meet in Leander ISD school cafeterias and gyms, said Veronica Sopher, LISD assistant superintendent of community and government relations. The school favors users such as nonprofit youth programs, Sopher said.

Two church organizations also meet in the 20,000-square-foot gym at Summit Christian Academy in Cedar Park, Headmaster Shannon Dare said.

“We have a lot of requests for other rentals that we aren’t able to offer, certainly not as much as requested,” Dare said. “We have rented to churches in the past, and they’ve gone and built, and now we’re renting to more churches.”

In September 2015 the school finished building two expansions that total 5,500 square feet on its Cypress Creek campus. Dare said the school is considering more expansions by 2019 to address the school’s increasing enrollment. Another private school, Hill Country Christian School, plans a new building southwest of Brushy Creek Road and Toll 183A in Austin. Headmaster Bill McGee said work could begin January 2017.

Other event venues

Church and school buildings usually do not allow alcoholic beverages and may limit renters to private gatherings or nonprofit groups. Those buildings do not work for events where alcohol is served, Brandt said.

Many local churches also lack sufficient space for larger events, and no hotels operate in Leander. Construction of an Austin Community College campus or a possible new YMCA facility in Leander may draw developers of hotels or event centers, Brandt said.

In Cedar Park, at least three hotels offer small conference room space but do not have larger conference rooms. Other Cedar Park facilities that offer rentable gyms or community rooms for nonprofit meetings as well as business luncheons or training include the Cedar Park Center, the Cedar Park Recreation Center, Riviera Clubhouse and the Twin Lakes Family YMCA.

Brandt said she believes that until new venues arrive that can host business conferences or networking, churches will serve well for private events and nonprofit meetings.

“When you have those types of services in your community, you end up with a nicer, better community,” she said. “[For example,] if it weren’t for Hill Country Bible Church, we would not have the space for our monthly chamber luncheons.”