Promiseland West Executive Pastor Michael Heflin surveys the construction site in the shell of what will become a multi-purpose building.
Story and Photos by Ann Fowler
Two neighborhood associations representing residents near Promiseland West’s Dream City site on State Highway 71 have filed a lawsuit against the city seeking a temporary injunction.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Hill Country Estates Homeowners Association and the Covered Bridge Property Owners Association, Inc., states that Greg Guernsey, director of Austin’s Planning and Development Review Department, overstepped his authority when he permitted construction of an amphitheater through a restrictive covenant.
A 1,000-seat outdoor amphitheater has been the dream of Promiseland West Pastor Randy Phillips, founder of the contemporary Christian music trio Phillips, Craig and Dean. Church officials believe current ministries must think outside the box to attract those they most want to reach.
At a January meeting of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) to discuss the project, Promiseland West Executive Pastor Michael Heflin said, “We believe that we have an opportunity to reach people that will never ever come to a church, but through the use of the amphitheater and the arts at the amphitheater, that we’ll be able to reach them. That’s why we’re doing it.”
Some of those living nearby are concerned that the sound from the outdoor venue and added traffic will diminish the quality of life they have come to love. When Pastor Phillips first presented the plan in 2008, some were adamant: church yes, amphitheater no.
Not all of those living in those two neighborhoods are against the project. Some support it while others are keeping an open mind that church officials will police the sound and traffic as promised.
But the most vocal are those who initiated the lawsuit. Attorney Eric Taube did not return a request to comment on the lawsuit, but Chris Edwards, assistant city attorney, told the Gazette, “The city believes that Mr. Guernsey was correct in his interpretation of the code.”
At an OHAN-sponsored candidate’s forum recently, City Council incumbent Bill Spelman said according to city lawyers, this is a constitutional issue regarding religious assembly. He said the city could not stop the construction of the amphitheater, but could monitor any noise violations.
In the meantime, construction continues. Pastor Heflin is clearly proud of the planned Dream City as he showed a reporter around the construction. The amphitheater is but a flat spot on the property, but will be finished before the end of the year—about the time the multipurpose building, now under construction, is complete.
At a framework that will be the multipurpose building, Pastor Heflin described arches that will rise above the front door leading into a large atrium. “We wanted to connect our architecture with our ministry,” he said. “Our mission it to help people live out life in a community.” He added, “The church is made up of people. People live lives. People should be able to live their lives through their church also.”
The sanctuary includes a stage and seating for 1,000, with some theater seating. Pastor Heflin said it will have an intimate feel: “Your relationship with God should be intimate. Your relationship with your friends and your family should be intimate. And we wanted to create a place to help make that possible for people. That’s why it’s built this way.”
He said both the amphitheater and the sanctuary would be available for community gatherings such as graduations. Scripture quotes and prayers can be seen scribbled on floors and beams throughout. Congregants were invited for a First Monday Prayer Service, then given markers to write scripture passages or prayers for friends or family members anywhere in the building—on the floor, walls, beams. Although the writing will be sealed as the construction continues, Pastor Heflin said, “I’m very excited one day to bring my grandchildren, maybe even great children, and say, ‘What’s behind this wall is a prayer for you.’”
Next door to the sanctuary is a 300-seat youth stage. A mezzanine will hold video games to give teens a safe place to gather and socialize. Elsewhere in the building are offices and age-segregated rooms for daycare during church services. A chapel is planned elsewhere on the site where weddings and funerals can be held.
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