Christian fraternity and sorority chapter house to open

After years of marking the former Theta Chi chapter house’s vacancy, the boards have been taken off the windows of the half-timber building on 16th Avenue Southeast.

“It’s great to see something like this house survive the bulldozer of progress,” said Matthew Wingard.

Wingard said he plans to move into the house in a couple weeks with his wife as “house parents” in a new Christian fraternity and sorority named Kappa Pi Alpha.

Built in 1928, the chapter house is considered “the most picturesque on fraternity row” along with Phi Sigma Kappa on 18th Avenue Southeast, according to a Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission report.

A local architectural firm, Stebbins, Haxby and Bissell, designed the chapter house in the English tudor revival style, said Amy Lucas, a Minneapolis city planner and Heritage Preservation Commission member.

Minneapolis condemned the old chapter house when alumni and students in the chapter failed to repair the building’s structure.

Ambling Companies – the real estate company that owns and operates the GrandMarc at Seven Corners on the West Bank – had planned to demolish the Theta Chi building and build student apartments on much of the block, also taking over some University parking, said Greg Silker, president of Campus Journey Ministries.

Faced with complications, Ambling eventually gave up on its plan and the property was sold to Campus Journey Ministries, an outreach program connected to Christians in Action, a largely student church affiliated with Assemblies of God, Silker said.

One snag was that the city of Minneapolis is considering designating fraternity row as historic. Until the designation issue is resolved, the city will hold public hearings and approve major renovations on fraternity row, Lucas said.

Silker said he is glad the building is in his group’s hands.

“We tried to purchase the building five times in the last three years,” Silker said.

Several fraternity members said they are glad the building has been saved.

“It’s such an historic building,” said Jonathan Sipola, anthropology senior and member of Kappa Pi Alpha. “To demolish it would have been a shame.”

The change in the campus landscape is at least as cultural as it is visual, according to Silker.

“As soon as you say something’s a Christian this-or-that, people start to think ‘well, that’s not for me,'” Silker said. “But the way we read it, Jesus was always breaking stereotypes. … That’s really why we chose a fraternity house.

The fraternity plans to run a coffeehouse on the main level, said Silker. He hopes Christians and non-Christians can talk – and have fun – in a nonthreatening environment, he said.

Some members at Kappa Pi Alpha see their group as different from much of the greek community.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to live there,” said member Lindsey Baumel, a junior in psychology. “Things that normally occur at fraternities and sororities won’t occur.”

Every two weeks on Friday nights, the house will host an alcohol-free party with free food. All students are welcome, Wingard said.

“The main goal for us in the house is to show people love on campus and in the community,” said Jeff Nelson, a senior in global studies and member of Kappa Pi Alpha.

Craig Krueger, pastor of Christians in Action, said the house is going to be a place for outreach.

“We’re excited that we’ve been able to get the building,” Krueger said. “We want to be a place where people can either explore faith or be strengthened in their faith.”

Luke Engan is a freelance writer.

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