July 27--Despite ongoing local efforts to save a historic black church from the wrecking ball, Southern Co. has again applied to tear down the former Trinity CME Church on Eighth Street.
Built by former slaves in the 1890s, Trinity is considered the birthplace of the Christian Methodist Episcopal denomination. The church has stood vacant since the 1990s, when Atlanta Gas Light settled with the congregation and began removing tons of soil contaminated by a nearby gas plant that operated from 1852 to 1955.
Southern Co., now owner of Atlanta Gas Light, is making at least a third effort to demolish the church and has provided members of the Historic Preservation Commission a 180-page report supporting its case, which goes before the commission at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Last Aug. 24 the power giant bowed to community pressure and withdrew its application, to give community members more time to raise funds and formulate a plan to save it. An effort led by Augusta Canal Authority, which manages the adjacent canal, teamed with Historic Augusta, city government and church members to develop a plan to move the church across Eighth Street.
Southern Co. spokeswoman Mekka Parish said while Atlanta Gas Light respects the church building, deadlines set for fundraising had run out.
"The initial agreed-upon April 2017 target date and extensions for the interested parties to secure funding sources, as well as viable new purposes for the building, have expired," Parish said.
The canal authority disagrees. According to a recent memo from Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse to the Historic Preservation Commission opposing the application, the local effort secured a grant to contract with the national Partners for Sacred Places and has raised $450,000 to match a promised $300,000 from Atlanta Gas Light to move the church.
The low bid to stabilize the church, remove non-historic additions and move it to a new foundation across the road was $750,000, Sherrouse said.
Asked about the local group's progress, Parish said funds raised are "a fraction of the costs necessary to cover relocation, restoration and upkeep."
Trinity member Charles F. Smith, who is involved with the local effort, said a court already upheld the church's historic significance and efforts are well underway on a plan to redevelop the area around it.
"We have been working together with getting the building relocated and we thought that was moving along smoothly, then last week we got this notice they were trying to demolish the building," Smith said.
Historic Preservation Chairman Dave Barbee said questions raised by Southern Co. include who will take ownership of the property long term and whether all its fixtures are intact, but regardless, the building is worth saving.
"We don't want to demolish the church, we want to save it because it's historic," Barbee said.
If the historic preservation commission rejects the application, Southern Co. can appeal the ruling to the Augusta Commission.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or [email protected]
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