Stepping out on faith: Desperation Church moving into civic center

Courtesy of Desperation Church

CULLMAN, Ala. – With the positive vote of the Cullman City Council Monday evening, the Cullman Civic Center is set to be sold and become the permanent home of Desperation Church. According to Desperation Pastor Andy Heis and Mayor Woody Jacobs, there are still loose ends to tie up, equipment to be moved and legal paperwork to be completed, but the move could begin in October, when things settle down after Oktoberfest, and the congregation should be settled in by the end of the year.

The City is selling the civic center at its appraised value of $3,125,500. The sale will help fund the construction of the City’s new sports and events complex along Main Avenue Southwest, where most of the events that take place at the civic center now will be hosted. The voting precinct at the civic center will be moved to the Donald E. Green Senior Center.

The Cullman Civic Center, officially the Robert E. McGukin Civic Center, was named for the former Cullman mayor who was instrumental in creating the facility during his tenure in office. The City has offered to place a memorial marker at the civic center site and possibly at the new multi-use complex that will take the place of the civic center.

McGukin’s daughter Nancy Wright attended the council meeting and addressed the body on behalf of her family, saying, “I appreciate the mayor and the city council for asking our input as such, and just sort of our idea of how this is going to work. We appreciate the fact–my brothers Jeffery, who could not be here, and Courtney, who is out of state–appreciate the fact that you considered doing something for our father in the future. We were a little concerned when we understood that the civic center was going to be sold, because it was his baby.”

She continued, “Even though he had a lot of naysayers that felt like he was going to build the Birmingham Civic Center here in Cullman, it was not that. It has turned out to be a very good thing for the city of Cullman. He was very encouraged by it before he left this world, but we have been very proud of the fact that the civic center was there. He helped to move Cullman toward some new items that we could not do before, new events, and it has been used quite a lot, and we are very happy about that.”

While proud of the facility her father helped create, Wright commended the City for moving forward, saying, “We are very pleased that the civic center is going to be put to another use and that this wonderful event center will just sort of move Cullman forward in the way it needs to be moved forward, in my opinion. I’m glad to see the council and the mayor being such visionaries to take Cullman from where we are with our civic center that is used so much, to a place that will be able to seat so many people and have so many events.”

Heis also attended the meeting and addressed the council and audience after the vote.

He first addressed Wright, telling her, “We’re honored to be able to move into the building that your father had such a vision for,” and inviting her to attend the dedication of the facility after the congregation completes its move.

Wright responded, “We’d love to be a part of it.”

Heis went on to say to the council, “The first thing I’d say is ‘Thank you,’ that I’m honored to have the opportunity to speak to the city council in regards to the purchase of the civic center, which has been a gigantic blessing for us. The goal of our church–it’s never been a building, it will never be a building–and the goal, more than anything else for us, is serving and loving people.”

Heis said Desperation’s previous plan to develop a 39,000-square-foot facility along Old Hanceville Highway could have cost the congregation more than $15 million.

He said purchasing the civic center will save the church “millions of dollars with a building that was already existing, that’s going to be larger than what we already have, that’s going to be a better foundation. Probably, as good as that (Old Hanceville Highway) location is, it’s going to be a better location, because we believe the west side is moving. So, there’s lots of pros.”

He said that the only “con” to the property is the parking lot, though he did not go into specifics. He did say that he is praying Jacobs “helps us out with it a little bit.”

Heis said Desperation Church has outgrown its current facilities, and its ability to minister to a growing congregation and community have become limited by space. He expressed confidence that the new facility will change that.

Said Heis, “For us, the purchase of the Cullman Civic Center represents an opportunity to do even more ministry, because we have the space to do it . . . It means that we’ll be able to host all that we do under one roof. It means that we’ll be able to add children’s space; we’re hoping to add a wing onto it, foyer space, and renovate the layout and look of the building. I believe that the area will benefit and be something the city of Cullman will be proud of, and what we plan to do with the civic center and this building is going to be gigantic. It’s going to be incredible for that side of town, and for just the city of Cullman, period.”

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Left to right are Nancy Wright, daughter of former Cullman Mayor Robert McGukin, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs and Desperation Church Pastor Andy Heis. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

W.C. Mann