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Hidden In Plain Sight: New Ypsilanti Performance Space Brings Historic Church To Light With Music

Sep 4, 2018

A historic church in Ypsilanti will soon have a new mission and serve a different calling in the community.  The First Congregational Church on Adams Street in Ypsilanti has been for sale for over ten years with no prayer, really, of being sold due to the extensive work and repair it required.  That’s until Ypsilanti computer entrepreneur Steve Pierce and his surgeon wife Maggie Brandt decided to put their passion for restoring historic buildings into the facility.

89.1 WEMU’s Lisa Barry takes you inside the local church that is attracting musicians and performers much before its official opening...still hidden in plain sight.


I arrive at the old First Congregational Church in Ypsilanti on a warm late summer day, and I am welcomed by Yen Azzaro, executive director of the Ypsilanti Performance Space, or, as it is being called, “The Ypsi.”  Using the church sanctuary and altar as the new concert hall, combined with the north hall and other flexible space, the "Ypsi" will eventually have 20,000 square feet to offer the community.

Steve Pierce has lived in Michigan for nearly 20 years with his co-investor and wife Maggie Brandt, who is a trauma and critical care surgeon and former military reservist who did three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Saying he wants to “honor” what’s been going on for more than a hundred years in the Ypsilanti church, Steve Pierce says they considered a lot of different options of what to do with it but decided to stick with its original purpose.

Pierce says the "Ypsi" is a registered nonprofit with the intention of keeping it on city tax rolls providing funding for future city services.

The first part of the Ypsilanti church was founded in 1882 with an addition made of Michigan-cut granite field stone added in 1898.

Wanting to maintain the character of the building, Pierce points out even though you can’t see them from the outside, every window inside the over 135 year-old building is made of stained glass.

The old church sanctuary which will be the future concert hall that seats up to 250 people, and on the stage (formerly the altar) is a church organ from 1905--a Barckhoff mechanical or “tracker” organ, which he says is in great shape with plans to make it even better.

Two Eastern Michigan University students came by the old church to pick up some surplus furniture Pierce was giving away.  Pierce says they too were inspired to share music in the future concert hall.

Madelynn Brown, an EMU senior, decided to give the future concert hall a test run.

The church annex, added to the building in 1988, is already open and functioning and available for public use.  

But with a roof to repair and other improvements to complete, Pierce says the “Ypsi” won’t likely be ready for official performances until 2020--when the "Ypsi" is no longer hidden in plain sight!

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu