Church works to turn old Orlando motel into Faith Arts Village
The Rev. Helen DeBevoise is putting her faith in the arts. When the co-pastor of Park Lake Presbyterian Church looks across the street at the run-down Davis Park Motel on East Colonial Drive in downtown Orlando, she envisions a place where artists, photographers and musicians can create and perform. For months, the church has been working to transform the 57-year-old motel into Faith Arts Village, an outreach ministry in which the 400-member congregation can inspire creativity and encourage faith through art. “Here we have a place where creativity could happen, where good things could be created for the greater good,” said DeBevoise, whose church owns the 59-room motel building. Last week, 30 teams of students from the University of Central Florida’s Advanced Design Lab presented ideas on how to renovate the motel and market the village. And on April 20, a panel of judges announced the winning plan, which includes rented studio space, galleries, a concert venue and a cafe. The plans call for space for artists to live and work on the property. The winning plan featured a sleek, modern design with a brick facade; second-story seating for the cafe covered by a trellis roof; a glass-enclosed office; and a wooden archway at the entrance. Will Benton, who is Faith Arts Village’s executive director and also the church organist, said the winning team’s presentation “just rocked.” Team member Amber Zimmerman, 21, called the group’s design “classy” and “timeless.” The UCF junior called winning the competition “awesome.” “I’m like in a fog right now,” she said. Built in 1955, the orange-and-blue-stucco building was one of many motels that once operated along Colonial. But by the 1990s, the motel had fallen into disrepair. In 2002, the church bought the motel, which has three buildings and includes a restaurant and pool, for about $2 million. Park Lake Presbyterian leased the motel building and used the lot for additional parking. When the motel closed in 2007, church leaders couldn’t decide what to do with the property. A plan to turn it into a homeless shelter was floated, but nothing materialized. In the meantime, vandals gutted several rooms, stealing copper piping, damaging air conditioners and breaking windows. Homeless men slept on the property. Mold grew in the laundry room and covered the ceiling in the motel office. But where some saw an eyesore beyond repair, DeBevoise saw possibilities. DeBevoise, who says she isn’t an artist but appreciates art, took the village idea to church members, pointing out how “God is a creative God” and how people of faith have been creating music and art for “eons.” “Faith has always expressed itself in the arts,” DeBevoise said. “Faithful people are creative people.” And when Benton learned about the arts complex, he wanted to be part of it. “I just like the idea of hanging out with artists,” Benton said. Since September, Benton has organized several open houses at the motel, holding jazz concerts during downtown’s Third Thursday event and inviting food trucks to the parking lot. A farmers market is planned May 4.