A growing church is a beautiful sight accompanied by challenges. The real estate history of Traders Point Christian Church is of a church that built a log cabin in the floodway of Eagle Creek (1850s) and had to move to higher ground not once but twice. When it finally got to the highest ground in the area, (7850 Lafayette Road) it grew to the point of being landlocked. Growth on site was over.
In 2002 the church optioned a site of about 35 acres at the southwest corner of West 79th and Marsh Road. The site was nearly four times the size of the church’s existing 9 acre site so the new location presented many possibilities for future growth and ancillary ministries not yet offered by the church. A basketball league for youth had demonstrated the power of introducing adults to the worship side of the facility. They would cross the barrier of entry innocently enough, as school age children participated in a basketball league open to all. And gradually the parents would look around the place, and return on Sunday morning for worship. Many parents became members of the church following this non-threatening introduction created by Scott Dobbs and his basketball league. So the church fathers agreed that soccer fields should be an important ingredient in any relocation. Negotiations with neighbors centered around details such as when could the fields be illuminated, and where would the parking for the fields be located? Neighbors knew it sounded awful to oppose a church. So the fields became the red herring for opposition. Neighbors expressed concern about the hours they might be exposed to the sounds of kids playing soccer. Would whistles be necessary?
The church retained one of the city’s most respected zoning attorneys, Phil Nicely, to represent their interests in handling the details of altering the land’s legal use. Mr. Nicely met with the church’s elders and carefully explained the challenges to obtaining legal entitlement for a move to the site. Zoning Attorney Steven Mears, who typically represented developers, was hired by the Traders Point neighborhood association (a predecessor to the current Traders Point Association of Neighborhoods) to articulate the concerns of the immediate neighbors and those nearby who feared the impact of a large unknown and the traffic it would generate. Although the church was known and respected in the area, it was after all, away from the daily traffic patterns of the residents of the area under consideration. Not in my backyard became the neighbors consensus to this use. The relocation of a mega church to their backyard was essentially a concern about what might happen to their property values. (The perception that a property’s value could be negatively altered by a new neighbor are at the root of all zoning battles.) While the neighbors were not opposed specifically to a church use, they were concerned about the potential for dramatic increases in traffic related to this use. Following many evening meetings involving both sides, the day of reckoning arrived. Church buses filled with members departed for the hearing before the zoning board. Neighbors chose the other side of the auditorum style hearing room. Hundreds of folks with better things to do sat nervously while each side and its chosen speakers stated their case. There was time for rebuttal. There were questions from the zoning board. Something was said about separation of church and state but the city’s counsel advised that while churches do enjoy a level of freedom, they are not immune from obtaining approvals for land use. And certainly this church’s large size represented adequate concerns for voicing reasonable opposition. The votes were cast and the neighbors won.
Many advised the church to appeal. But Pastor Howard Brammer summed it up best when he noted that God had other plans. Church elders considered a site at the northeast corner of West 96th and Kissell Road in Boone County. Studies were initiated of the farm’s suitability. It had attributes including several points of ingress egress, more acreage and it appeared to be within a path of progress near Zionsville. Most importantly the owner was ready, willing and able to sell and the price was right. But the site was proximate to a large equestrian community. Many in the neighborhood not only had their own horse farms, but they rode their horses on the county roads on Sunday morning. The churches plans didn’t seem harmonious to them with their interests and they took their concerns to the nearest municipality that might have jurisdiction, Zionsville, to plead their case. The planners at the town reviewed the concerns and reviewed the town’s plan maps and concluded the area was indeed sensitive and important to the equestrian interests. They created a new zoning classification to protect and preserve the equestrian character of the rural area. Strike two for Traders Point Christian Church.
About this time, in 2003, while studying a plat, (which is a booklet of township maps containing all the large parcels in each section by property owner), I was struck by a thought. I noticed a parcel that I thought might work for the church. The more I looked at it the more correct it seemed. The site was just a few miles north of the church’s present location but the site was adjacent to an interstate highway interchange. The site had the potential to offer both interstate access and interstate visibility. I knew that a bright young co worker, Todd Maurer, was in some way connected to the parcel’s owner. “What do you know about the salvage yard on Indianapolis Road, is that your father?,” I inquired. “The family is related to my father, it is my father’s Uncle Mickey and I think they might be interested in talking, what do you have in mind?” I don’t recall if I told him immediately. But when I shared the name Traders Point Christian Church, Todd’s response was fascinating. “Isn’t that the church pastor that prays to Jesus at the Brickyard? I don’t think there should be a public prayer at such a large sporting event, do you?”, Todd said (without realizing I was a member). In fact, Todd’s father Mickey, publisher of the Indianapolis Business Journal, had written just such an editorial on at least one occasion, naming Traders Point’s pastor by name. Howard Brammer never missed the opportunity to invite 400,000 people to pray. He gave the invocation each year before the Brickyard race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And Mickey Maurer wrote about the seeming awkwardness of the prayer to such a large audience at one of the city’s biggest annual events. Mickey raised the question of whether he was the only one uncomfortable with this venue being used to promote Jesus Chris and since he buys ink by the train car, that is certainly his right. It was a lively debate that Mickey would share with his audience and Howard would share at church. But the two sides had never met and may even have had a certain disdain for each other. But whatever differences may have existed, the selection of a site for a church and the disposition of a 100 acre site owned by a member of the family, are big business transactions that require a modicum of professionalism.
So all difference were set aside and the parties were introduced to each other. The first meeting took place at my office. That one and all subsequent went well. Each party approached the transaction as the important business transaction that it had the potential to be for each party involved. In 2003 the church closed on the land and the following year ground was broken for the new facility, near the southwest quadrant of S.R. 334 and Interstate 65. The new site was three times as large as the bitter defeat site near Traders Point and over ten times the size of its site at the time atop Lafayette Road at Moore Road. God had bigger plans. The church insisted upon a large portion of the over 300 acre Maurer parcel that had never been impacted by the auto salvage yard. Environmental issues were minimal. In retrospect there were many preordained events that led to the sucessful conclusion. But there are two related aspects to this story that are curious. On the day when I first saw the site in the plat book, something strange happened. I had seen the site in the book before but not with this use in mind. I had driven by it many times. But on this day I was overcome with a feeling that this was where the church would be located. As I looked at the type on the page, I was struck by the suitability of it all. Even the owner’s name was ominous. On this particular day, the owner’s name seemed to hover above the page. It was almost as if the type of the name was glowing or gently radiating. The legal name shown in the plat book was not Maurer, it was Wrecks. I know it sounds cornball but I thought at the time how appropriate it all seemed. What could be a more suitable place for a church than a place called Wrecks? Each of us is a wreck until we find Christ. The repair begins once we admit we are a wreck. The first meeting with Mickey included his Uncle Mickey, Howard Brammer, church elders Curt Smith, Dave Helm, and Jon Huskins.
We would later learn that Uncle Mickey died from a car crash in front of his synagogue on North Meridian Street. He had been side swiped by a speeder and died after a lengthy hospital stay.
The final irony was that adjacent to the new church and in front of Uncle Mickey’s salvage yard was a huge neon illuminated sign with its business motto: “We meet by accident!” Mickey Maurer devoted his long life to a salvage yard of car wrecks and he would die in one, shortly after selling it to a church; a salvage yard for people.