Developer wants to put doughnut shop at site of historic Macon church

Georgia Public BroadcastingNovember 8, 2013 

A historic church in downtown Macon that played an important role in the city’s civil rights movement could meet the wrecking ball.

A developer wants to demolish Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church at 860 Forsyth St. and replace it with a Dunkin’ Donuts, according to plans filed with the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission.

The commission is set to discuss the proposal at its next meeting, set for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The congregation of the church moved to a new location in 2007, the Rev. Camile Holmes and trustee chairman Adrian Fort explained in a letter to planning authorities dated Sept. 18.

“The downturn in the economy made it difficult for the church to sell the 860 Forsyth building until now,” they wrote.

“The current structure ... served the membership and the community very well for 110 years,” but the it was not handicap accessible and the building is “irreparable” due to a leaky roof and water damage, Holmes and Fort wrote.

“We are very much praying for the sale of the building so that we can utilize the proceeds from the sale to continue our ministry at 5263 Bloomfield Road where we have a daily headstart program and an adult education program.”

The church, chartered in 1897, was named after the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, according to its website. It is across the street from The Medical Center of Central Georgia, the second largest hospital in the state, and the area sees a great deal of lunchtime foot traffic.

It was built at a cost of about $25,000. The mortgage was burned after a fall financial rally in 1925.

Planning documents list the petitioner asking for permission to demolish the church as Jim Rollins with The Summit Group Commercial & Investment Real Estate in Macon.

“I have spoken with my clients and they have no comment, and I will respect the wishes of my clients,” Rollins wrote in an email Friday.

The Historic Macon Foundation issued a “preservation alert” Thursday evening, not long after news of the planned demolition made the rounds on social media.

“Historic Macon is opposed to the demolition of the church, and intends to work together with the congregation to find a solution that will help the congregation sell the church and preserve the current building,” Josh Rogers, executive director of Historic Macon, said in a statement.

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, the congregation became active under the leadership of the Rev. Elisha B. Pascal.

“Many of the community organizing meetings were held in it, and it was one of the places where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke when in Macon,” the website states.

Among others who preached there over the years are Vernon Johns, Benjamin E. Mays and the Rev. Jessie Jackson.

The current church leadership could not be reached for comment Friday.

In 2006, Macon architect and developer Gene Dunwody Jr. designed a plan to convert the church into a food court, possibly with lofts to accommodate families visiting the nearby hospital.

The plan never came to fruition because the price for the property was too high, he said.

“I believe that this community will not allow this demolition of our heritage,” Dunwody wrote in an email Friday. “I am working now to find the funds to pay the church, and preserve the building as a place holder until we can find a use that will be economically viable.”

In an interview with GPB, Rogers said he would be open to supporting a developer in putting a Dunkin’ Donuts within the existing church facade.

“I think when it comes to historic churches, preservationists have to be really creative and really open-minded,” Rogers said.

Rogers also disputed the owner’s contention that the building is beyond repair.

“Having dealt with a lot of buildings that were terminally ill, this one’s not there yet. This one’s still got hope,” he said.

Leah Fleming of Georgia Public Broadcasting contributed to this report.

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