WHAT WAS ONCE Destin, Florida's premier nightclub and live concert venue attracting the likes of the Ramones and BB King had fallen in to a state of disrepair and had become an eyesore to the surrounding com¬munity. Coincidentally, the club known as "Nightown" had a colorful past that also played a role in the history of Shoreline Church's Lead Pastors, husband and wife, Eric and Darlene Partin, who both frequent¬ed the popular hangout back in the 80's.
Eric and Darlene originally started Shore¬line Church in a movie theater. In order to house the growing congregation, they also worshipped at a Fort Walton Beach shop¬ping center with 1,000 weekly attendees. A decision was made to search for a new centralized facility with the goal of bringing together both congregations.
Eric recalls, "One day, we were driving and as we passed Nightown, I said this would be a perfect church building with its high ceilings, stage, and wrap-around mezzanine. If I designed a building, I would have designed something very similar."
Not long after, an article in the local paper indicated Nightown was closing and the property would soon be up for sale. "I was the first to call, and after a couple of months, they gave us the first option to buy," tells Eric. Shoreline purchased the 16,000-square foot property.
Eric and Darlene soon partnered with Aubrey Garrison, president and founder of Live Design Group located in Birmingham, Alabama, who they had worked with previously on a project. Darlene explains, "We loved the process with them. We felt like they were on our team, supporting our vision and creating an environment that reflected our church culture."
The Partins and Live Design crafted a plan to highlightnot hidethe building's past and, in doing so, hoped to attract people who were uncomfortable visiting a church facility.
"We believe God had us waiting for this building. When Nightown shut down, they locked the doors and left everything as it was. There is a 4,000-square foot attic and it was a treasure trove," laughs Eric. "We found nearly 10,000 vinyl records, vending ma¬chines left over from the 80s, boxing rings, tattoo chairs and many more unique items."
According to Garrison, "Starting with an existing structure can either save money, or in some cases, cost more to renovate. Shoreline saved money by preserving much of what already existed. The club's performance space was ideal for the contemporary worship style of Shoreline Church. The venue today is much like it was in the Nightown days. The original stage is utilized, as well as the balcony on the 3 sides of the worship space. Walls were removed around smaller spaces outside the worship room, converting them into the main lobby, café and group spaces.
Doors that were part of the removed walls became table tops in the café and several doors were reconfigured into the café's display case. The thousands of 33 LP vinyl re¬cords found in the attic were painted different colors and used to decorate various areas of the church. Eric often described his vision as the House of Blues.' During the LIVE Session, the church was given the freedom to interact with the design team and communicate their ideas.
"They never tried to tell us why we couldn't do something," says Darlene. "Instead, they helped us solve problems so we could achieve the end goal. Today when you walk through Shoreline, it's unbelievable how close it looks and feels the way it did in the LIVE Session."
While the overall look of the facility is different, a good number of Nightown's famous icons serve a similar purpose today. The ex¬posed brick walls, original stage and mezzanine areas serve to capture memories from the past. The two-level worship space seats 420 people on the main floor. The balcony is a comfortable area with casual seating featuring groups of sofas and café tables that offer a direct view of the stage below.
A bright and fun addition to the sanctuary space is an adult slide from the balcony to the worship room's main floor. "There is even a "selfie" spot to take pictures in the lobby. The success in the lobby is all Darlene and her search for unique furniture and light fixtures add a very eclectic image to the space," tells Garrison.
In all, Garrison believes it's the concept of retaining the history and vibe of Nightown that sets this church apartthings like the elevator door to nowhere. The project features small but striking details, such as the multiple painted biblical graffiti messages on the toilet partitions, including one that says, "Call Jenny for prayer, 867-5309" and was modified from the 1981 Tommy Tutone song.
The church also keeps a barbershop/ salon original to the venue which is adjacent the worship room. The Salon operator tithes 10 percent of the income back to the church and cuts hair for a local homeless outreach.
The pre-show performance venue be¬came a place for Shoreline's children and youth. The rooms were designed with a residential, at-home feel to serve the church's young growing families.
The church's café, The Flying Pig, was named from the Partins frequently hearing that Nightown would become a church when pigs fly. The Shoreline Church design is truly a representation of its mission: "To change people's perception of God by changing their perception of church."
"Because of Live Design, we achieved above and beyond what we had imagined," tells Darlene Partin. "Our church vision is to restore the church to front and center relevance in our everyday lives in our community. We are so thankful for Live Design and their mission to make our dreams come true and for our church culture to shine in our community."
"We decided the building is really a statement of who we are," shares Eric. "I have a past. And when I became a Christian I didn't forget my past, it's still a chapter from my life but God took me and redeemed me and had a new future for me. We took a lot of the iconic stuff left in this club and repurposed it so when people come back in they go, Oh, I remember that.' We even found a sign from the 80s that we restored and put up on one of the walls that still says Nightown. What we're trying to do is not erase or cover up the past, because Nightown has another story, a new future just like us."