As the Lord leads Covenant EFC, we follow. Without exception, the building and fundraising journey of our BPJ Centre, WDL Centre, and ACKCentre were all birthed, anchored, soaked and concluded in prayer. We do not procure or build properties simply out of practical needs or expansionary plans. We move as the Lord leads and moves us.
Covenant East could continue operating out of rental property at Park Avenue Convention Centre if the Lord leads us so. However, Covenant EFC, her Board of Elders and Deacons together with the Senior Pastors, with the mandate from the 2019 Annual General Meeting, have decided to pursue a property because collectively we feel that this is what the Lord is leading us to do.
Please also refer to https://www.cefc.org.sg/why-cefc-east-property for further explanation.
2. Is it really necessary to start a new centre in the East in view of social media and internet technologies allowing for online churches and virtual communities?
Please refer to the important contextual responses in the previous question on why Covenant EFC is buying a property.
The following articles may be helpful to provide better perspectives on this matter:
- An article: “Is an Online Church Really a Church?” by Dr. Ed Stetzer
- An opinion piece: “Internet Church Isn’t Really Church” by Laura Turner
- An opinion blog: “I attended an online church, here’s what happened”
3. What is the expected seating capacity of the main auditorium of the said potential property for Covenant East? And how will Covenant EFC manage the growth of Covenant East if the seating capacity is limited?
The expected auditorium seating capacity for the said potential Covenant East property is about 500 to 600 which is similar to the current seating capacity of the rental facility in Park Avenue Convention Centre. We will run multiple services on Sunday to cater for growth and look at other possible overflow capacities.
4. How much will the Covenant East property cost? Will $40M be sufficient since there are also A&A (additions & alterations) construction work for Bukit Panjang and Woodlands Centres?
No, it will not be sufficient. That’s why the $40M fundraising target is called “Seed Fund” because it serves as a start-up for the longer-term fundraising effort for Covenant EFC’s Building Fund to finance the following projects:
a. Covenant Woodlands Centre (WDL Centre)
A&A construction works to increase its current Gross Plot Ratio (GPR) from 1.4 to 1.6 thereby allowing greater capacity for ministry. WDL Centre’s current adult Average Worship Attendance (AWA) exceeds 1,900 and The Next Generation (TNG) AWA exceeds 500. Its growth is stifled by its insufficient physical ancillary space for TNG, Mandarin-Dialect and other ministries. Without the expansion, it will not be able to cater to the growth expected from the gradual opening of the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line from early 2020 onwards.
b. Covenant East Centre (Covenant East)
Covenant EFC’s membership base has approved a budget of no more than $40M at the AGM in March 2019 for the Board to proceed with the pursuit, purchase (including taxes), construction, and fit-out of a permanent property in the East of Singapore. Covenant East was started with 200 Covenanters (including kids) in a rental auditorium in Changi Business Park. After three years, it has now grown to an AWA of almost 900. It has outgrown the space capacity of the rooms rented at Capri Hotel for our TNG ministries. The rental for only six hours of usage on Sunday in Park Avenue Convention Centre and the three rooms in Capri Hotel for TNG ministries, plus the monthly rental for two service offices in Park Avenue Hotel for storage purposes cost a total of $400K a year, which increases with each subsequent year.
Please also refer to the FAQ #1 “Why must Covenant EFC buy a property and not just continue renting at Park Avenue Convention Centre for East Centre?”
c. Covenant Bukit Panjang Centre (BPJ Centre)
A&A construction works are expected to begin in 2024 to increase its current GFR from 1.0 to 1.6 (or higher if authorities allow) for more capacity across all ministries. BPJ Centre’s adult AWA exceeds 2,700 and TNG AWA exceeds 550. Its current facilities which was designed for a much smaller congregation size, is now overwhelmed and no longer caters to its growth as it has been experiencing continuous growth since the opening of the Downtown MRT Line in 2015. Lease renewal fees expected to be not less than $8M will be paid to HDB by 2027 for another 30-year lease.
5. Why are we pursuing a commercial property instead of a Place of Worship (PW) property for Covenant East?
The availability of this commercial property to Covenant EFC is completely the divine favour and timing of the Lord. This property was not in our Property Committee’s search radar in the past three years. There were other properties under consideration including potential future HDB Place of Worship sites and other existing commercial properties elsewhere. However, none was available or feasible to pursue. After much deliberation and onsite prayers, the Board has decided to pursue this commercial property.
In September 2018, the URA released its New Tender Framework for Place of Worship Land. In its announcement, it mentioned a potential multi-church hub PW site at the UBI area and another single church PW site in Bukit Batok. However, as of October 2019, none of these two sites have been released for public tender. It is also notable that the release of a single church PW site in Chua Chu Kang in late 2018 received low interest from only two churches as opposed to other past church PW site releases.
According to URA’s announcement in September 2018, a multi-church hub PW site must house multiple churches in a multi-storey development. Successful tenderers must have relevant experience in developing, managing and/or operating PWs, and must meet the needs of smaller churches to be housed within the PW hub and manage the potential impact of the PW hub on the surrounding environment. Successful tenders must also demonstrate how the facility, tenants/tenancies of the PW hub would be managed, and how potential conflicts between tenants and potential dis-amenities generated from activities and human/vehicular traffic can be mitigated.
Covenant EFC’s Board deliberated and prayed onsite at Ubi about this multi-church hub PW site, but finally decided against it in favour of the immediate availability, location suitability/attractiveness, simplicity of managing a commercial building, and the financial consideration of the said commercial property.
6. Have the authorities provided approval for Covenant EFC to use the commercial property for religious use?
There are precedents of Singapore authorities’ approval of churches using commercial or light industrial properties for non-exclusive and limited religious use. These are some of the churches:
- Faith Community Baptist Church
- Touch Centre in Marine Parade Central
- Gateway Theatre in Jalan Bukit Merah
- FCBC Suntec in Suntec City
- Victory Family Centre – VFC Rubikon in Jalan Bukit Merah
- City Harvest Church in Suntec City
- New Creation Church
- The Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista
- Marina Bay Sands Ballrooms
- GV Grand Cinema in Great World City
- GV Yishun Cinema
- Cathay Cineplex in Causeway Point
- Shaw Theatres Seletar
- Shaw Theatres Waterway Point
- Heart of God Church in light industrial building in Eunos
- Rock of Ages Church in light industrial building in Eunos
- Christ Commission Fellowship church
- Suntec Convention Centre
- The Cathay along Handy Road
- Every Nation Church
- GV Harbourfront Cinema at Harbourfront Walk
- CT Hub in Kallang Avenue
- City Missions Church in CT Hub in Kallang Avenue
The two pertinent URA requirements for compliance are:
- The maximum space for religious use must not exceed 20% of the building’s total Gross Floor Area (GFA).
- The religious use of maximum space allowed must not exceed two days a week.
Covenant EFC intends to fully comply with URA’s guidelines in all its documentation submissions for non-exclusive and limited religious use. We will renovate the building to fully comply with these two pertinent URA requirements. Proper documentation and blueprints will be submitted as part of the expected regulatory process.
Because the said property is a commercial building, we will have to maintain the commercial character of the building. As such, beyond Covenant EFC’s usage during weekends, we are exploring ways to use this building both for commercial and community purposes. We are in conversation with New Life Community Services as a tenant to run possible services such as student care centre services allowed under URA’s commercial school category of use. We are also exploring with other service providers to set up commercial educational or learning centre services for children and youths in the community.
The multipurpose function hall and the rooms may also be rented out throughout weekdays and weekends for commercial purposes such as conferences, seminars, meetings, weddings, etc. In addition, we can use the building on weekdays and nights to provide secular services like seminars and talks (such as marriage enrichment talks, parenting talks, health talks, how to manage in an age of interconnected and social media society, or anything that is culturally and societally relevant) that have the dual purposes of blessing and serving the community. Because these are non-religious in nature, we are not flouting any URA guidelines.
9. What are the usage plans for the remaining 80% of the building and the other five days of the week?
Please refer to FAQ #8 “How will this commercial property be properly and efficiently utilised?”
10. Who will manage the commercial use of the property and how will Covenant EFC as a charity/church handle revenue from commercial operations?
The said commercial property will not be procured directly by Covenant EFC, but through a wholly owned and managed incorporated company called ACK International Pte. Ltd (AIPL). Covenant EFC’s ACKCentre in CT Hub in Kallang Avenue is legally owned by ACK International Pte. Ltd. Covenant EFC is the commercial tenant, AIPL is the landlord.
Once the said property is purchased by AIPL, there are various options for the management of its commercial usage. These will be deliberated and decided by Covenant EFC’s Board as empowered by Covenant EFC’s membership base. Options available to Covenant EFC include managing the commercial usage through an ACK International Pte Ltd staff, appointing a commercial management agent, or by other means.
All revenues arising from the commercial operation of the said property will be managed and recognized by AIPL. Covenant EFC will be one of the commercial tenant of the said property, among other tenants.
11. Why are there no further details about the East property, and when can we expect more detailed information?
While a potential choice property for Covenant East has been clearly identified, commercial negotiations are still ongoing pending the necessary due diligence work being conducted by the Property Committee which is appointed by Covenant EFC’s Board. The owner of the said property has also requested for confidentiality while negotiation is still ongoing. As such, it is not appropriate to provide any additional detail of this property until negotiations are concluded and a decision has been reached.
More detailed information will only be provided to Covenanters once the commercial negotiations have been successfully concluded, and the sales and purchase agreement has been signed.
12. When can we expect commercial negotiations of the said commercial property to be concluded?
In pursuing this commercial property for Covenant East, the Property Committee and Covenant EFC’s Board are sparing no effort to ensure that proper legal, financial, regulatory and technical due diligences are conducted. These will take time for due process to be followed, but they are well underway.
We are hoping for a successful conclusion at the earliest by end of 2019, or at the latest by first quarter of 2020.
13. When can we expect Covenant East to move into this property upon successful conclusion of the commercial negotiations?
We expect Covenant East to be able to move into the property at the earliest 18 to 24 months after successful conclusion of the commercial negotiations.
The reason for this is that the building is relatively old and needs to be extensively renovated to have a multipurpose function hall and various rooms of different sizes suitable for commercial purposes and Covenant East’s use during weekends.
Because of the extensive renovations required, applications will have to be submitted for regulatory approval for fire safety, traffic management, change of use and other requirements from various authorities such as HDB, URA and BCA. These will likely take at least six months. Only upon regulatory approval can renovations and constructions begin, which we expect to take no less than 9 to 12 months. It is only after renovations that the building will be ready for interior, amenities and equipment fit-outs which are expected to take no less than three months.