Senior Pastor Chris Hodges founded the Church of the Highlands in 2001.
By Greg Garrison | [email protected]
The Church of the Highlands, Alabama’s largest church, continues to buy more property adjacent to the former Cahaba Grand Conference Center on U.S. 280 in Birmingham for a planned new campus for Highlands College, which trains ministers.
The church closed a deal on Jan. 7 to pay $32 million for an office building, parking deck and land along Grandview Parkway and Cahaba River Road, according to deeds filed with the Jefferson County Probate Court. The church also purchased additional land and a warehouse for $2.925 million, according to probate records.
In 2016, founding Pastor Chris Hodges announced that the church had bought the Cahaba Grand Conference Center, where it began holding services on March 6, 2016, as its Grandview campus. “This past week, we wrote a check and we own that conference center,” Hodges said at the time.
The conference center was originally built as the Richard M. Scrushy Conference Center as part of the HealthSouth headquarters campus, later called the Grandview Plaza, which was bought by the Daniel Corporation in 2008.
Hodges said the church acquired the conference center property for a quarter of what it’s worth, although he did not announce a selling price at the time. Jefferson County probate and tax records show the purchase price was $8.5 million.
Highlands College, which has 1,147 students in ministry currently at the Greystone campus of the Church of the Highlands, last year announced plans to move its campus by 2021 to the church’s Grandview property on U.S. 280 and double enrollment. Plans call for eventually adding student housing to the site.
The church’s 2019 annual report said Highlands College had 371 traditional students, 701 evening students and 75 interns in ministry training at the school. Since 2011, Highlands College has placed 576 ministry graduates in employment, many with churches affiliated with the Association of Related Churches, co-founded by Hodges to plant churches.
The planned new campus of Highlands College is located behind Grandview Medical Center, which also was formerly part of the HealthSouth campus.
“This location is perfectly suited for a college campus and relocating there will elevate our visibility within the community,” according to a statement on its web site. “The Grandview location will give us the capacity to create a true college campus designed to promote community with state-of-the-art learning facilities and a beautiful green space that transforms the property into a walkable campus.”
Highlands College also announced a campaign to raise a $100 million endowment for renovations at the Grandview campus and to provide scholarships for students.
“We will seek to fund an endowment that will allow us to provide the opportunity for up to 1,000 students to attend Highlands College on full scholarships,” the statement said.
“These scholarships are a vital part of the Highlands College vision because our approach requires students to be fully immersed in the classroom and in the living laboratory of the church.”
Pat Henry, president of the Commercial division of Daniel Corporation, which owned the conference center, said that the plans for Highlands College are impressive.
“They’ve got some pretty big plans for it,” Henry said.
Henry said the property is in good hands.
“They’ve been in the building for more than two years,” he said. “We moved out a couple years ago and they moved into our space. Any growth or expansion we can get in Birmingham is a good thing.”
Although he does not attend the church, Henry said the church’s outreach and projects help the Birmingham area.
“I personally am blown away by the church and the investments they are making in this community,” Henry said. “It should be celebrated. I’m excited about what they’re doing as citizens of the community.”
Weekly attendance at the Church of the Highlands now exceeds more than 50,000 at all its campuses combined, according to its latest year-end annual report.
Alabama’s largest church is headquartered on Grants Mill Road in Irondale but founding Pastor Chris Hodges has his weekly sermons streamed by video to branches from Huntsville to Mobile and Tuscaloosa to Columbus, Ga.
Weekly attendance at all 21 branch locations combined is 52,163, according to the church’s latest annual report.