LAS VEGAS (KLAS)– A Church located off I-15, nearly buried underneath the highway during Nevada’s largest and most expensive public works project, blames the construction for a lacking number of attendees.

Now, the church is moving locations, but it doesn’t have enough money to mirror everything that the current campus has.

Senior Pastor Jim Houston-Hencken at Grace Presbyterian Church says prior to 2017, his campus stood tall at the corner of Charleston and MLK near Interstate 15. Then came Project Neon.

The three-year-long project used $1 billion to enhance “nearly four miles of Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the ‘Spaghetti Bowl’ interchange in downtown Las Vegas,” according to the Nevada Department of Transportation. The agency also stated these four miles are the busiest stretch of highway in Nevada.

But, the project left the church in a “hole,” said Houston-Hencken. This was shortly followed by months of pandemic-related closures.

“We lost the ability for a year to worship, and then when we came back, people couldn’t find the property,” Houston-Hencken said inside the campus chapel Friday afternoon. “We would average maybe 10, 12 visitors from the strip from out of town who would come visit us for worship on Sundays. That has completely dried up.”

With five entrances to the campus prior to construction, only two were left as crews made way for the MLK overpass just feet away from the facility. Both remaining entrances, the pastor said, were only one way with no legal turnaround for roughly a mile if drivers missed either one.

“You can’t even see the property, even from the freeway,” Houston-Hencken said. “Once, we had a funeral here, and the hearse could not find an entrance to the church and showed up 30 minutes late. There’s just nothing you can do to make that right.”

With fewer visitors willing to navigate the site, more senior members concerned to drive to it at night, and a few families concerned to bring their children to it because of the new homeless camp that appeared along one of the building’s walls, fewer donations are coming in. Houston-Hencken said these donations are used for its ministries, including feeding the hungry.

In 2018, the church sued the state of Nevada. It accused the Nevada Department of Transportation of forcing underground utilities onto church property during Project Neon “against the landowner’s will and with no compensation,” according to the lawsuit.

That case was settled in May 2021. Without providing specifics of the settlement, Houston-Hencken said the state purchased the property from them so they could relocate to a new property off Durango and Oquendo. 

But, the settlement amount did not account for the inflating cost of building materials and supply chain shortages experienced nationwide. Because of it, Grace Presbyterian Church claimed it is between $3 million to $4 million short of moving all amenities to its new location.

“It’s difficult when we have to take money that would have been used for ministries, like feeding the hungry and so forth,” Houston-Hencken said. “We haven’t ended any of our ministries, but we’ve decreased them in size and number.”

The lack of funding means they would need to downsize their plans, specifically by eliminating rooms intended for their youth programs, which the pastor claims is “critical” to their mission.

Regardless of whether the extra money is raised, they plan to break ground on what they can afford in Spring 2023. Fundraising efforts are being conducted on their website.