After being turned away by both the St. Michael City Council and the St. Michael Planning Commission, Riverside Church pastors Tom Lundeen and Skipp Machmer were quiet about what the next steps would be in its quest to obtain the rights to the former Cinemagic Theater building on O’Day Avenue and Highway 241 in St. Michael.
Now, after a month of legal proceedings, the answer is clear: the theater is going to be the church’s home away from home.
Riverside was successful in its quest to take over the building after the St. Michael City Council acted Tuesday night, April 21, to issue a Conditional Use Permit allowing Riverside, with the acquisition of the property, to hold assemblies at the former theater.
Cinemasota, Inc., who owns the building and had done renovations in case a new theater could be opened, has a purchase agreement with Riverside in place, contingent on city approval. With that approval, the sale will go final unless something unforeseen arises, making Riverside the owners.
Terms of the CUP were outlined by a court settlement agreement including the size of the church’s assembly, the church’s contribution to a traffic signal at the intersection of O’Day and Highway 241, and future improvements to parking areas. Many items in the settlement, issued by Judge Janie Mayeron, were terms discussed by the two parties as the council debated a zoning variance request from Riverside last year.
After passing the CUP, the City of St. Michael released a statement via its League of Minnesota Cities attorney, Josh Shepherd, Wednesday morning.
It states, in part:
“On Tuesday, April 21, 2015 the St. Michael City Council approved a partial Settlement Agreement with Riverside Church, arising from a lawsuit asserted against the City related to the Church’s proposed use of the Theater Property at 4300 O’Day Avenue NE. The partial resolution is consistent with City Ordinance 1502, which allows assembly uses to apply for a conditional use permit in a B-1 district, and contains conditions on Riverside’s use designed to address traffic concerns on Highway 241. Riverside has agreed that the conditions are reasonable and do not impose unlawful/substantial burden on its religious exercise or First Amendment Rights.
“The City Council also approved Riverside’s application for a Conditional Use Permit. The CUP is only effective if Riverside obtains title to the property under its current option and purachse agreement with the property owners, Cinemasota, Inc. Currently, Riverside may exercise an option to enter into a purchase agreement for the property by April 24, 2015.”
Riverside Church initiated its lawsuit against the city on March 24 in Minneapolis Federal District Court, stating the city’s actions in 2014 has infringed its First Amendment rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Riverside will continue pursuing claims for liability and damages against the city, Shepherd said. Due to that litigation, city officials and council members were not able to comment on the latest developments.
North Wright County Today has reached out to Pastors Tom Lundeen and Skipp Machmer for comment about the outcome of the case, and is awaiting a reply.
Machmer, in October, said he hoped the issue wouldn’t come to litigation, but recognized it then as a possibility as the two sides tried to forge an agreement through the government process.
Riverside church elders and the two pastors all said the theater location was something that “came to them,” and wasn’t something they initially sought. However, looking at demographics and visitor information showed the church did have a large contingency in the STMA area, and the set up of the theater for a simulcase, or “multi-site” mission, was a perfect fit, Lundeen told NWCT last summer.
According to the church’s plans, Riverside will initially use four of the former theaters for services (simulcast on the movie screen), children’s areas and a day care area. The church can grow to 1,200 occupants or 1,600 seats (using more space within the existing theaters) before it has to ask the city to amen the CUP again.
Riverside will pay about $38,000 to the city for its portion of the traffic signal cost. Under the CUP, Riverside will work with the Wright County Sheriff’s Office to provide traffic control at the intersection on Sunday mornings and at other times crowds will be assembled at the church until the point a signal is constructed.