Harvest Church selected LIVE Design Group to design a concept of their vision for occupying the historic REX Theatre in Pensacola, Florida. Then with a Kingdom focus, the firm put the church’s goals first, and helped select a local architect to complete the project.
WFM Staff · October 5, 2015
Not all “outstanding architect” stories result in that architect actually seeing a project to completion. Sometimes, an “outstanding architect” is one that steers a client in all the right directions, even if that means steering them to another architect.
Harvest Church is a Pensacola, Fla.-based ministry founded in 1996. In its early days, Harvest held worship in movie theaters. As the church grew, Harvest’s founder Pastor Bobby Lepinay felt the church’s mission, which is more about people than a building, sustained them even without a traditional church building.
Years later, however, Lepinay called on LIVE Design Group to design a concept for what he dreamed would one day be the new home for Harvest: the REX Theatre. The Rex is a 1910-era historic building in downtown Pensacola. It had originally opened as a movie theater in the 1930s. Since that time, the building underwent a series of renovations before closing its doors in the late 1980s. Deteriorating and ravaged by hurricanes, The REX was in danger of becoming an eyesore. Pastor Bobby tried numerous times to acquire the building with no success, until 2012 when the building’s owner began attending Harvest and the door was opened for the church to acquire the old theater.
Harvest turned to LIVE Design Group to finalize the design concept and begin plans to restore the theater to its former glory and to bring life back to downtown Pensacola. The design concept included restoring the façade to its 1930s Art Deco design and renovating the interior to include a large main theater, a second-floor café, and a third-floor suite of meeting rooms.
Adaptive Reuse/Renovation(Harvest at the Rex)
Project Size: 301-800 seats
Completion Date: April 10, 2015
Because Harvest showed an interest in bringing vibrancy back to downtown Pensacola with the renovation of The REX, LIVE Design Group put the church in touch with former client and ARC pastor James Johnson Hill of Agape Church in Laurel, Mississippi. LIVE Design Group and Agape Church worked together on their Four One Five City Centre project, which transformed an abandoned 100-year-old Woolworth building into a thriving community center and church, which helped revitalize the town of Laurel. Pastor Bobby loaded the Harvest chuch board onto a bus and they headed to Laurel to see for themselves. Inspired by their visit to Agape Church (and with the concept developed by the LIVE Design Group), the team began discussing the best possible next steps for the project. The great historical, political, and social significance of the Rex Theatre within the downtown community led the design team to explore creative ways to navigate through a strict design approval and challenging construction process.
Recognizing the special attention this project would require on a daily basis, LIVE Design Group volunteered to help select a local architect to guide the remainder of the project. They determined that having a local architect finishing the design and construction oversight would be more economical and benefit the church. While LIVE Design Group would have loved to continue working with Harvest through construction documents and project completion, the firm ultimately wanted what was best for the client.
In mid-2013, Harvest finished the design of the project under the leadership of Quina Grundhoefer Architects. What makes this project and the architect-client relationship so unique is the focus on the project itself. Instead of pursuing the work for themselves, LIVE Design Group evaluated what was in the best interest of the church and ultimately stepped aside to provide an opportunity for a local architect more familiar with area politics and processes.
Now completely restored, The REX is home to Harvest Church but also a place for the community, offering a variety of activities and events, such as small-scale live theater, cinema, concerts, and other special events. Great audio, video, and sound, comfortable seats, ADA compliant features, and a new elevator make The Rex a modern facility now, while exposed wood, brick, steel, original archways, and an Art Deco fixture in the lobby captures the original building’s character. The result is a facility that celebrates the historical nature of the space and enhances Harvest’s unique ministry.