Former Norwich bank to find new life as church
Norwich — For Norwich Pastor Adam Bowles, the images of a castle, a bank safe and shields denote a place of refuge and feelings of safety and security.
Add to those feelings a trust in God and fellowship of neighbors, friends and even strangers, and Bowles believes he has found the perfect formula for his new nondenominational church in the historical 1894 former Norwich Savings Society bank headquarters at 4 Broadway at the corner of Main Street in downtown Norwich.
Castle Church — named for the stately white stone building that resembles both a castle and a church, along with church’s philosophy — will occupy the nearly 6,000-square-foot first floor of the former bank once renovations are completed in March, Bowles said.
A 225-seat sanctuary will replace the glass-walled offices in the modern addition on the Main Street side. Even the former cubbyhole where the ATM was located will have a use, as the video equipment spot so the church videographer can record Sunday services to be streamed over the Internet.
The former bank branch at the corner of Main and Broadway will be the church’s main entrance, fellowship lounge, coffee bar and center of social activities, with parlor-like homey cushioned chairs and furnishings. New bathrooms are being constructed flanking the showpiece of the entire room, the bank’s original intricately designed mechanical safe, its gears and heavy latches visible to all.
“This is the part that is most exciting to me,” Bowles said of the fellowship lounge area.
Castle Church will highlight the safe, Bowles said, both physically and metaphorically, using it as the symbol of the feelings of safety and security he hopes church members and visitors feel when they enter the building. The color scheme of the rest of the room will draw from the shiny gold brass and dull oil-black features of the safe, Bowles said. Old photos of the bank will hang on the walls. A plaque will describe the safe and how it worked.
Giant windows line the exterior walls, each topped with an arched stained-glass image of a shield and laurel leaf – more symbols of protection, victory and security, Bowles noted.
Bowles said he had his eye on the former bank building for a while as a potential home for his new church. When the church’s real estate agent Bill Hadley — who specializes in churches — showed Bowles the space, he immediately envisioned how the sanctuary could work in the modern portion of the building.
Bowles called building owner Kris Mahabir of Trinicap Properties 5 LLC of Falmouth, Mass., bracing for possible skepticism.
“Perfect!” Bowles recalled the owner’s reaction. “We already have stained glass windows.”
Mahabir said last week that the large “for lease” signs and the marketing of the former bank as the Castle Building helped attract the church to the available space. He credited the Norwich marketing firm Miranda Creative for designing the sign.
“The inquiry with Adam worked out,” Mahabir said. “I have churches in a number of my buildings, so I’m familiar with churches.”
He said Bowles called one of those tenants, a church in Fitchburg, Mass., and “got a glowing review” of the church’s future landlord.
Castle Church signed a seven-year lease for the first-floor space with lease payments that will rise gradually over time, Bowles said. The entire renovation project is expected to cost $160,000, plus “a lot of in-kind help,” Bowles said, and will be funded through the sale of Bowles’ current church building, the International Church at 134 Boswell Ave., to another church.
Most of the 200 members of the International Church plan to follow Bowles to the new location, and he said the church has seen about 40 new members over the past few months. The church attracts members from several ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, he said, and celebrates each time a new nationality is represented in the congregation.
Bowles and Mahabir both quickly dispelled fears that the church would mean the building would be removed from the city tax rolls. Because Castle Church will lease the space, the building will continue to be fully taxable. “We get a significant tax bill for that building, so it’s good to get it occupied,” Mahabir said.
A medical center moved in to the third floor in August, Mahabir said, and the second floor remains available. He said he has had an inquiry from one tenant interested in 10,000 square feet of space, and from another looking at another 3,000 square feet in the building.
“We’re optimistic we’ll get the rest of the building occupied,” Mahabir said.
Bowles also pledged that Castle Church would not be a Sunday-only downtown presence. Sunday services are expected to start in March, with a grand opening celebration planned for April. Two Sunday services are planned each week.
But the church will have activities throughout the week, Bowles said, scheduled for off-peak times for the busy downtown block that includes Norwich Superior Courthouse and the state Department of Children and Families offices in the Shannon Building across Main Street.
The church already has created partnerships with downtown businesses, sponsoring free haircuts for schoolchildren with a downtown barbershop. Bowles said the church hopes to bring in Craftsman Cliff Roasters coffeeshop, around the corner at 30 Broadway, to supply the coffee for the lounge.
Bowles also already has joined the Global City Norwich initiative, which is working to revitalize downtown with festivals and business entrepreneur training. Church members have participated in downtown cleanups and will be involved in future Global City projects. Robert Mills, president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., said he was “thrilled” to have the new church downtown.
Mayor Peter Nystrom also welcomed the church to downtown and dismissed any fears that the church would remove the building from the tax rolls or would not be active in the community.
“I believe they will be a positive aspect to downtown,” Nystrom said. “I believe they will do a lot of public outreach. It will be a very positive addition to everything happening down there.”