Old Douglass home could be saved, moved

pramati@macon.comMay 14, 2014 

Twenty years ago, there was a move afoot to save the historic Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon.

Now there’s a new effort to preserve the home of the man who built it.

State Rep. James Beverly is leading the charge to save the home of famed Macon businessman Charles Douglass. He owned the Douglass Theatre and was one of the city’s most prominent black businessmen until his death in 1940.

The house sits on property near the former Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which is being demolished for a new doughnut shop.

For a time, efforts to demolish the church prompted conflict among planning officials, historic preservationists and church members. But there’s a communitywide effort to save the Douglass home.

Beverly said he’s been working with the property developers, Historic Macon, Mercer University, Macon-Bibb County and other partners to try to move the house to another site.

The effort began after Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert issued a challenge in March to save the house, he said. If the community did so, Reichert pledged to use the home for the newly formed Office of Small Business Affairs, which focuses on local, small businesses owned by minorities and women.

Beverly said he decided to take on the challenge despite campaigning to keep his District 143 seat in the Georgia Legislature. He faces former Bibb County Commissoner Lonzy Edwards in the May 20 vote.

“It’s basically the community coming together,” Beverly said.

Beverly has been in contact with Lou Patel, who is building the Dunkin’ Donuts shop, and real estate agent Jim Rollins to acquire the house. Rollins said they needed a bigger area and looked at acquiring the Douglass house.

Rollins said the plan for now is for Patel to buy the house from its current owner and donate it to Beverly’s Community Enhancement Authority, along with the money Patel would have spent to demolish the house, in order to help move it.

Should something fall through in the negotiations, Rollins said Historic Macon has offered to step in as a backup to preserve the house.

Beverly has been working with Mercer to find a location for the house, hoping to start the moving process in the next three or four weeks so as not to hinder Patel’s construction schedule. For now, the plan is to move the house to Mercer University Drive, but that’s not final.

Those involved in the plan are scheduled to present their ideas Monday to the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s Design Review Board.

Neither Beverly nor Mercer President Bill Underwood could say for sure where the house will be relocated yet, or how much it will cost to move. Beverly estimated the cost in the $200,000 range.

Underwood said it’s important to try to save the home.

“It’s an important home in Macon’s history,” he said. “We need to find a way to preserve it. It’s a challenging problem, and we don’t have a lot of time to work with.

“We’re trying to find a good place for it. We don’t want to move it and abandon it. It needs to be resolved.”

The city also will require that the house be updated and renovated in order to move the business administration office there. Beverly said early renovation estimates are about $75 per square foot for the 3,500 square-foot house -- about $262,000.

Beverly said he can’t think of anything more appropriate than locating the city’s Small Business Administration in the house owned by one of its most prominent minority businessmen.

“The community is coming together in a big, big way to save this structure,” he said. “I’m grateful to Mercer, the mayor and Mr. Patel for working on this.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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