Less than two weeks after BMI Group officially purchased Stratford’s Knox Presbyterian Church and signed lease agreements for use of the building with both the church congregation and the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective, representatives from all three groups shared their future plans for the downtown Stratford icon with the wider community Tuesday evening.
As part of a special announcement attended by community members, investors and local officials, BMI Group managing director Paul Veldman announced a new name for what will soon become a revitalized community and arts space in the heart of Stratford — Copperlight, which is meant to reflect the building’s architecture and the light that pours into its space.
“A long time ago when (Stratford Arts and Culture Collective co-chair) Ron Dodson and I were talking about the brand, he said something (like), ‘Oh, what about that copper roof?'” Veldman told the Beacon Herald in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s announcement. “I guess that sort of stuck in my head because the (creative marketing) agency (we hired) presented us with 100-plus names, and there was Copperlight right there.
“It almost immediately stood out as, ‘You know what, that clicks.’ Of course, you have the fascia on the peaks that is copper and it’s kind of a nice, neutral name. It goes with a lot of things. It sort of stands on its own, but also you can think of, ‘This performance at Copperlight,’ or, ‘Living at Copperlight,’ or, ‘Art Studios at Copperlight.’ It just felt, when we saw it and the brand that came along with it, it sort of suited the building and the project very nicely.”
As part of the sale with BMI Group, the Knox congregation, thanks to a 10-year lease agreement, will continue to both meet at the church for worship and facilitate its community outreach programs like the Cancer Care Mission, the wigs and accessories room, community meal preparation and other regular congregational activities from the building.
“And if we need additional space, we’ll be renting that,” said Allan Rothwell, chair of the congregation’s redevelopment committee. “The big change is that we’re no longer the owner of the building (and) we will no longer be responsible for repairs and maintenance. The BMI Group has the resources and they’re going to be investing significantly to upgrade certain systems here, lighting and seating and other things that are going to make the spaces more functional for not only our congregation, but the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective and others.”
And while business and worship will more or less carry on as usual for the congregation, the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective will work with both the congregation and BMI to develop their shared vision of converting the church sanctuary into an affordable and adaptable space for the performing arts in Stratford.
“We’d like to make it available to the community so there’s a place for community arts and culture that would be suitable, well-equipped, affordable and a place where the arts can be showcased,” Dodson said.
“And slowly, over time, there will renovations to the space here,” collective co-chair Chris Leberg added. “The pews will be replaced by chairs, a stage will be put in with some drapery, some lighting, some sound to make this a performance space beyond a recital hall — for theatre and dance and other kinds of art forms as well as music.”
Thanks to BMI’s investment in the 1914 heritage building, Veldman said there will be a number of near-term improvements made to enhance the rentability of the space, including lighting, sound and other electrical upgrades, the installation of new fans to improve airflow, accessibility upgrades and upgrades to the downstairs bathrooms and the kitchen.
“And we’ve already got a few more substantial things planned such as the protection of the stained-glass windows. That’s a big project in and of itself — sort of hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get that taken care of because it’s such a big element of this,” Veldman said.
” … Tonight is about presenting, really, some of the architectural renderings and ideas in terms of the some of the bigger projects we intend to take on. It’s about, essentially, at its core, making the assembly space more multi-use and more comfortable with things like the installation of air conditioning.”
Along with the installation of air conditioning, Veldman said BMI also has plans to construct an elevator to improve access to all floors of the building, as well as plans to modernize the building’s front, street-facing entrances without taking away from the church’s heritage value.
“We hope to do these things in sort of an evolutionary way so we can keep programs running and also to bring the community in on the process,” Veldman said. ” … We want to stage it in such a way where we have very minimal downtime.”
While Veldman and his colleagues at BMI have some very preliminary plans for the building’s less-used space, like the amphitheater at the building’s rear, the focus for now is to improve the well-used and well-loved portions of the century-plus old church so the community, congregation and local arts groups can continue using those spaces for years to come.