Who decides when a historic building’s mission is over?

November 10, 2013 


WOODY MARSHALL/THE TELEGRAPH Macon, Georgia, 11/08/2013: Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Macon Friday afternoon. According to plans filed with Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission, a developer wants to demolish the church at 860 Forsyth St. and replace it with a Dunkin' Donuts

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

It might seem like an ignominious end for a church that was one of the centers for the local Civil Rights Movement to be torn down in favor of a Dunkin’ Donuts, but that is the proposal on the table. The Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church congregation that owns the location on Forsyth Street headed to another missionary field on Bloomfield Road six years ago -- leaving the church that served them for 110 years sitting empty.

The congregation wants to sell the property to support their new location and the people it is trying to serve -- and they should be allowed to do so. The new owners want to demolish the structure. It is in need of expensive repairs. With the Tre­mont congregation gone it is unlikely another congregation of worshippers would take on such an expensive rehabilitation project. And, the location, with little parking, stuck between a medical facility, a home and a Subway sandwich shop, is no longer ideal for the purpose it was built.

This is not the first time the Tremont Temple site has been up for sale. Hospitals in the area tried to gobble the property up decades ago but the church eventually decided to stay put. When the Rev. James Bumpus accepted the position of pastor at Tremont in 1998, he started to convince the congregation that it was time to move on. The area is already commercial with the second-largest medical facility in the state across the street from the church’s back door. An interesting side note: the entrance to The Medical Center of Central Georgia’s Emergency Room on Pine Street is located at the site of the former Ballard Normal School, a school founded to educate African-Americans at the end of the Civil War. The school predates the church and at one time, had more than 500 students.

Historic Macon has announced an effort to save the church building and that may be a worthy exercise. The building is listed as a contributing building to the National Register, but finding a preservation-minded buyer who would pay the church a significant sum and then pour thousands of dollars to rehab the property may be a lot to ask. To its credit, Historic Macon will help the church through the process, if the congregation is agreeable.

The prospective buyer should have expended the effort and gone through the required design review process instead of skipping that step. Heading straight to Planning and Zoning this Tuesday without having a Design Review Board opinion may be counterproductive.

Time is money, but the developer may find that taking that extra, required step, might have saved him or her a few headaches.

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