The spot once occupied by the restaurant and bakery Blü Orkid on the corner of Santa Clara and Oak streets in Ventura may be receiving a facelift soon if plans go through for a multi-use facility specifically tailored toward the Christian faith, but murmurs of its use as a soup kitchen have raised some concerns.
The Valley Bible Fellowship is a multistate Christian organization with locations in both California and Nevada. The planned site in Ventura was presented to the Downtown Ventura Organization last Wednesday, Sept. 24, and will now go the planning and approval process.
If approved, the building would be renovated and redesigned to play host to two 75-minute Sunday worship services, which could include music, and an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. business focused on generating marketing content such as videos and photography for the church’s outreach programs.
Tom Touchstone, executive pastor at the Fellowship, says that the location would primarily be used for multimedia design by Open Iris, a design firm hired by the Fellowship to produce online and marketing content.
“They handle all of our media, Internet and streaming processes,” said Touchstone.
The church’s head pastor, Ron Vietti, is a published author and the church has a large web presence.
“We’re actually in the midst of doing some live Internet stuff and are looking at studio things,” said Touchstone. “A lot of that would be housed [at the Ventura location].”
Also part of the plan would be to hold classes for interested parties in the community. Touchstone says that on Sundays, after church services, classes on parenting, finances and other topics of interest would be hosted, while during the week classes on web design and photography could be hosted by Open Iris.
Rumors of using the church as a soup kitchen, however, prompted questions by members of the community after the church’s presentation in front of the DVO last week.
Kara Davis of Main Street Architects, the design firm that is listed on the paperwork as the architects that would design the interior, says there would be four to six employees during the week doing desk work. During community events, including the church services on Sundays, the desks would be placed on rollers and moved aside.
Davis says that she’s also heard the rumors of a soup kitchen going into the spot, but says that they are unfounded.
“I think that is the fear,” said Davis. “I’ve heard gossip that that is the concern from people in the community. This church has no plans to do that.”
According to the paperwork submitted to Ventura’s Planning Division, the location has 18,000 square feet of space, which includes the parking lot, landscaping and the building itself, and would be used for “client meetings, computer work” and photo and video shoots.
“At any time we may be photographing a new clothing campaign, shooting promo videos for authors, or simply creating graphics and UI [user interface] experiences at our media stations,” a letter attached to the submitted paperwork reads.
Also a part of the plan would be a program called “nCourage,” which would provide classes on “creating [a] healthy lifestyle, financial freedom, living in a blended family, better marriages and parenting classes.”
Touchstone says that the Valley Bible Fellowship “supports the groups that take care of the homeless,” but has no plans or intention to turn the potential Ventura location into a soup kitchen or shelter of any kind. The Fellowship has relations with the Ventura Rescue Mission and Lighthouse Shelter, according to Touchstone, and is working with Sandbox Coffeehouse to host a Bible study.
“We’re not trying to meet their needs ourselves; we want to support the groups that are meeting their needs,” said Touchstone.
Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert said last week that the Fellowship’s plans in Ventura aren’t very clear and that it will take time to review them.
“We’re trying to understand what they’re proposing exactly,” said Lambert. “It’s not particularly clear in their plan what they’re doing.”
Lambert says that the division has 30 days to review the application and that there are some “inconsistencies” in the application, particularly in the square footages and identification of certain spaces.
Touchstone says that there is no rush to complete the application process and the Fellowship is looking forward to working in Ventura.