Now that the city has acquired the block between where Franklin Synergy Bank is located, it is asking for your advice on how best to redevelop the property.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Moody outlined a program for city council last week to reach out to citizens for their views on the future of the block rather than passively waiting for people to email comments to city hall.

"I see you've broken your promise not to post any more. Is this the Richard M. Nixon escape clause?
“I see you’ve broken your promise not to post any more. Is this the Richard M. Nixon escape clause?

Her major suggestion was for a town meeting at city hall. Councilman Eddie Smotherman had proposed the property itself for the meeting, but this could be problematic since the city doesn’t have actual possession of the property yet. In addition, Moody said a city hall meeting would ensure maximum turnout since it is more accessible than the block itself and there is plenty of parking.

Fate of historic church is in the balance

The key issue is the fate of a former Methodist church, which dates from 1888. The church stands on the southwest corner of the block, bounded by N. Church, E. Lytle, N. Spring and E. College Streets. When the issue first came up in January there was talk of saving only the church’s bell tower. But support has been growing to save the entire church if it doesn’t become a financial burden to the city.

"Pardon me for being sincere, but if you think this historic church should be saved from the wrecking ball, now is the time to speak up."
“Pardon me for being sincere, but if you think this historic church should be saved from the wrecking ball, now is the time to speak up.”

Moody had several other suggestions for reaching out to citizens for ideas on the block:

— Putting up a booth, where people could make comments,  at JazzFest (May 6-7) and at the Saturday Farmers’ Market on the square when it opens in June.

— Posting a questionnaire on the Downtown Dwellers website, which has about 2,500 members here. Moody said that responses could also become part of market studies the city is doing on a possible Highland Ave. “cultural arts’ study and a companion study for redeveloping the city’s historic “bottoms” area.

— Erecting a huge signboard on the block itself where citizens who might be reluctant to participate in other forums could write their ideas and suggestions.

Focal point for arts corridor?
Focal point for arts corridor?

The future of the vacant church now rests solely with the council. A city deal to buy the property it sits on for $1.55 million from Franklin Synergy Bank closed last month. The bank will lease the property from the city until its Rutherford County headquarters building along Medical Center Parkway is completed.

Support appears to be growing for saving the church itself

Councilman Eddie Smotherman has said that he would not vote for any redevelopment proposal that does not save the church sanctuary — meaning the original building.

Councilman Rick LaLance had suggested that the building could be used to provide badly needed office space for the city or as an archive for city records. It’s unclear where the other council members stand, but the city staff appears more open to saving the church than it did in January when it first proposed redeveloping the block.

Restaurants, museums, performance centers

Other cities are finding new uses for old, abandoned churches so that they don’t become burdens to taxpayers. Old churches have been converted to restaurants in Pittsburgh and Matawan, NJ. In Indianapolis, an abandoned Presbyterian church has become an art museum and a place where local artists can rent studio space. Other former churches have become community centers and performance venues.

Here are links to two prior stories I did on this issue The first is a piece that shows how other communities are preserving historic former churches by putting them to good use. http://wp.me/p5ZA8p-z6

The second links to the original story I did on buying the block. It also contains the contact list for the council members. http://wp.me/p5ZA8p-wg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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