Decision on Macon church demolition delayed

alopez@macon.comNovember 12, 2013 

A historic downtown Macon church waited seven years to find a buyer. Now, the congregation must wait another month before it finds out if the sale of the building to a developer will be allowed to go through.

The developer wants to demolish the building and build a doughnut shop.

On Tuesday, the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission deferred making a decision on the proposed demolition of Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which has been up for sale for seven years and unused for services for two years. The next zoning meeting is Dec. 9.

The deferral will give the commission’s design review board, which meets Dec. 3, an opportunity to provide its opinion on the proposed demolition of the building at 860 Forsyth St., and the construction of the doughnut shop. A scheduled review board meeting earlier this month was canceled because just two of its members were present.

Jim Rollins, a real estate broker with The Summit Group Commercial & Investment Real Estate, which represents the church, spoke at the planning and zoning meeting and asked that the commission approve the demolition.

“While I personally feel that it is a shame to destroy a historic building,” Rollins said, “I also feel that it is a shame to punish a congregation by effectively taking their property from them and preventing them from enhancing their ministry in their new location and continuing their service to the community.”

But Josh Rogers, executive director of Historic Macon, argued that “the building can be saved.”

Zoning commissioners voted 4-1 to defer the matter. Commissioner Al Tillman was the lone “no” vote.

The church had planned to finalize its deal with the developer by Nov. 30.

Rogers said Historic Macon would be able to buy the building for as much as $200,000, but he needs to inspect the building first, which is currently unsafe and environmentally hazardous, before he can commit to what he figures will be a substantial construction project to save it.

Rogers said Historic Macon is prepared to pay for a construction estimate as soon as the church allows him access. He said it would remain financially feasible for the organization to save the building if the cost to acquire and refurbish it does not exceed $900,000.

His tentative plan is to redevelop it as a food court with four tenants.

The ideal scenario, Rogers said, is that the church is freed from its current contract with the unnamed doughnut shop developer (which would occur if planning and zoning officials vote against demolition), and Historic Macon gets a contract equal to the church’s contract with the developer. Rogers would like three months to complete design drawings, market studies, financial models and construction estimates to show that the project will succeed.

Church leaders may not be willing to wait that long. They told zoning commissioners Tuesday they are under financial hardship taking care of two buildings.

Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist is currently based out of 5263 Bloomfield Road, where it offers a daily Head Start program and adult education program, said the Rev. Camile Holmes.

Brenda Cherry, a trustee of the church, said she was raised in the downtown location and is aware of its historic value.

She acknowledged the church has served downtown Macon for 110 years, but she said she agrees with its demolition.

“The people are the church, not the building. And regardless of whether the building is there or not there, we will always remember what took place at Tremont Temple Baptist Church and our members are in agreement with that,” Cherry said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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