On June 30th, 2022, the BMI Group completed a sale agreement with the congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church and signed separate lease agreements with both the church and the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective (SACC) related to future use of the church property.
As the new owners of the church, BMI has announced that the property will now be known as Copperlight, a brand title that reflects the architecture of the building.
These agreements are the result of many conversations about how to protect one of Stratford’s cherished heritage sites and create opportunities for other community uses. In recent years, SACC and the Knox congregation had evolved a shared belief that the main sanctuary of the church could be converted into a much-needed space for community-led performing arts. With the building purchase and other planned improvements, BMI has delivered the investment required to make that dream possible. In the end, the values and vision of the BMI Group aligned with how the Knox congregation and SACC envisioned a re-purposed church.
“Our vision that the Knox site could encompass faith, the arts and community service purposes has not changed,” said Allan Rothwell, Chair of a Knox Task Group. “Working with the BMI group and SACC means we can build something truly unique in the heart of Stratford that preserves and leverages the value of this historic site.” Rothwell notes that the high costs associated with maintaining the church had become impossible for the congregation to manage so this new partnership will sustain the life and purpose of Knox. This new agreement keeps the Knox congregation in the church for services while the SACC welcomes arts and culture groups at other times. Knox will continue its community outreach via activities such as the Cancer Care Mission that includes the Wigs and Accessories Room, community meal preparation and congregational life activities through the week.
SACC Co-Chair, Ron Dodson, wants to stress that the vision for the church and the Knox-SACC partnership has never wavered. “There were times when it just didn’t look like we could get this off the ground, but we all believe so strongly in the concept of a revitalized Knox venue, and its benefit for the whole Stratford community, that we are pulling out all of the stops to make it happen.” The SACC will work with BMI and funding partners to address the technical and audience requirements that are needed to accommodate arts events. A variety of experts will be engaged to provide advice that will make the space desirable for artists and their audiences. When the space opens to the public, it is expected that its acoustics, design and facilities will be exceptional.
BMI is currently involved in a number of other Stratford development projects and has experience working with other church conversions in Ontario. BMI purchased the church for $2 million and has plans to make further investments that will immediately upgrade the building and property. Longer-term plans are still being developed.
A Message from the BMI Group
It’s been two years in the making and needless to say BMI is excited to be taking on this project.
This is an incredible opportunity to work with community partners SACC and Knox Presbyterian Church under the guidance of Trinity Centres Foundation (https://trinitycentres.org/) consultant, Kendra Fry.
The BMI Group, a family partnership, that works to realize the emergent potential of the natural built and social environment, is known for its heritage revitalization projects across northern and southern Ontario. Most notably in Stratford -- The Bradshaw Lofts, the old Family and Co. building (currently known as the Perth County Inn) as well as its most recent renovations to the former Culliton Law building at 145 Ontario Street, across the street from Knox Presbyterian Church. In Ingersoll, the BMI Group recently purchased and revitalized a historic church in the downtown area so it has become a multi-purpose venue for community programs, church services and special events. The venue is known as Oxford Square.
This is an exciting new end-use scenario where we envision Knox as a vibrant arts centre in the heart of Stratford. The BMI Group is dedicated to the City of Stratford and its passion for arts, culture and creative spaces. We look forward to creating a new space for these passions to find a home."
John, Justus and Paul Veldman
Théâtre Paradox in Montreal, a former church, advertises itself as a “unique, eco-responsible performance hall” that hosts a wide variety of events, including concerts, theatre, receptions, weddings, product launches, lectures and more. The space can be configured in four main ways: “Italian”, Cabaret, Banquet and Stand up. There are definite similarities to the Knox sanctuary!
Community Leaders Consider the Future of Knox Church
On July 12, community leaders were invited to a reception at the church to kick off the re-imaging of this pivotal Stratford landmark now known as Copperlight. Specifically, those gathered were invited to “honour the church’s history and welcome the evolution of an arts and culture centre in Stratford.”
Invitees were also asked to consider conceptional architectural renderings for Copperlight provided by Tillman Ruth Robinson (http://www.atrr.ca/company/mcmichael-ruth) and to hear more about how the developer will work with both the congregation and SACC going forward. The Mayor and a number of councillors were attendance as were leaders from many of Stratford’s local arts and culture organizations.
Stratford Arts and Culture Collective (SACC) - Now the Real Work Begins
Now that it has signed a lease covering its exclusive use of parts of the church, SACC is working fast to get the basic infrastructure in place so artists and arts and culture organizations can start using the space in the future. Everything from seating and lighting to box office operations and sound systems are on their agenda. SACC will soon open a small office at the church to facilitate collaboration and planning.
SACC is also busy applying for grants from various levels of government to help get things off the ground.
SACC has also commenced a business planning cycle so it can make decisions effectively about how to proceed with the development of a performance space at Copperlight.
“Some years ago, the SACC identified the need for a state-of-the art facility that could handle community-based theatre, arts and musical productions, and other cultural activities,” says SACC Co-Chair, Chris Leberg. “Now that that possibility has become reality, we have a lot of work to do to bring this project to the finish line.”
SACC is currently working to establish its first official Board of Directors. Structured leadership is a necessity if the group is to gain charitable status and management responsibility associated with the new performance facility.
Knox and the Community
The congregation is currently developing a full inventory of its possessions in the church. It is understandable that many things have been stored for so long they have been forgotten. Once the inventory is complete, the congregation will make decisions about how to use or dispose of various items since it will still have some designated storage space inside the church. BMI has agreed that the current church office should remain as it is.
The Knox congregation looks forward to playing a continued role in transforming this building to an even more vibrant and welcoming centre for our community. Working with the BMI group and SACC means we can build something unique in the heart of the city that preserves and leverages the value of this historic site.
– Allan Rothwell, Knox Task Group
Knox is also consulting the various community groups renting space at the church. It is expected that some will stay and others will re-locate. The congregation made the difficult decision to close the Alley Thrift Shop as well. A shortage of volunteers is one of the reasons for the closure.