Historic African American church may become condos on Charlotte’s west side. ‘So sad’

Historic African American church may become condos on Charlotte’s west side. ‘So sad’
To preservationists’ dismay, Wesley Heights Methodist, a historic African American church on Charlotte’s west side, will be converted into condominiums. COURTESY OF DAN MORRILL (Source: Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - To preservationists’ dismay, a historic African American church on Charlotte’s west side will apparently be converted into condominiums.

Wesley Heights Methodist “is a magnificent church,” longtime Charlotte historic preservationist Dan Morrill told The Charlotte Observer on Saturday.

The church opened in 1927 and was designed by “one of Charlotte’s premier architects,” Louis Asbury Sr., Morrill said. “He also designed Myers Park Methodist,” Morrill posted on Facebook on Saturday. “Can you imagine putting condos there?”

n application filed with the Charlotte Historic District Commission lists the applicant/owner of the proposed Villa Emmanuel condominium project as Charlotte architect David Wales, who could not be reached for comment. The application, for a certificate of appropriateness, indicates the building would be extensively renovated, but not demolished.

The commission must still sign off on the certificate. Commission staff said they’re primarily concerned about the loss of “original, character-defining stained-glass windows.”

The Wesley Heights Methodist congregation was white when the church opened, but the grand Romanesque Revival building became affiliated in later decades with the predominantly black A.M.E. Zion church. For over a decade, Charlotte Immanuel Church of All Nations has owned the property.

Having expanded their ministry elsewhere, Charlotte Immanuel Church of All Nations leaders decided to sell the property in recent months, Morrill said.

PRESERVATIONIST SADDENED BY SALE

“What is really sad is that there was a backup contract to save the church, including the interior, and use it as the home for a host of agencies to help people,” Morrill posted on Facebook Friday.

Morrill was referring to J’Tanya Adams, founder and program director of Historic West End Partners, an economic development and cultural non-profit.

Adams told the Observer on Saturday that she’d hoped her non-profit could buy the property, preserve the sanctuary and its many original features and use space in the immense building and nearby parsonage for the performing and culinary arts and other public uses.

She said she had a big backer in former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, who met with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission on Oct. 8 to try to get its backing to preserve the site. “I just accompanied him,” Adams told the Observer.

The commission “buys and sells endangered historic landmarks through its $9 million revolving fund and places preservation covenants in the deeds when the properties are sold,” according to its website. Morrill said the commission usually sells the properties to buyers it knows will preserve them.

LETTERS OF SUPPORT

Morrill said the goal was for the commission to buy the church and then sell it to Historic West End Partners. But commission backing fell through when Adams was unable to say how the non-profit would find the money, she told the Observer.

Letters supporting Historic West End Partners were sent to the commission by the Knight Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell.

The church intended to sell the property for $1.5 million to Historic West End Partners before anyone else, Adams said. The 13,320-square-foot church and 1,124-square-foot parsonage are on Grandin Road.

But in mid-October, with the commission support having fallen through, the church accepted one of three offers it received from private developers, she said.

In late October, meanwhile, Charlotte developer Clay Grubb toured the site with Adams and immediately offered to purchase the property in behalf of the non-profit, she said. But the property was already under contract with one of the developers, who had until Monday, Dec. 16, to plunk down the money, Adams said.

On Friday, Adams said, Bishop Rick Williams of Charlotte Immanuel Church of All Nations told her one of the private developers had wired the church the money for the sale. He did not identify the buyer to her.

Williams could not be reached by the Observer on Saturday. The Realtor on the sale, John Jones of Gibson Smith Realty Co., referred questions from the Observer to Morrill and church officials.

Adams said she “went numb” when the bishop told her the sale had been made. “I woke up crying at 2 a.m.,” she said. “I prayed all night.”

Shannon Hughes, president of the Wesley Heights Neighborhood Association. told the Observer Saturday night that the sale is “going to radically change a historic neighborhood, and the neighborhood is not excited about that. We’ve lost so much (in Wesley Heights) that we’re trying to preserve what little we have.”

‘BEACON OF HOPE’

Mitchell, the city council member, said the church “has always been a beacon of hope and an advocate for the community.”

He said plans to make the church a center for job creation and training and affordable housing resources fit well with other west side economic development such as the city street car.

Morrill, who until this month had been the consulting director of the Landmarks Commission since 1974, said the buyer “has every right” to convert the church into condos. Morrill and Adams also are on the board of Preserve Mecklenburg.

“I am sure the buyer will create attractive residential units,” Morrill posted on Facebook Saturday afternoon after the Observer interviewed him by phone. “That is not the issue for me. I am supportive of adaptive reuse. But this is an architectural gem, and putting condos in the church will require major changes.”

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