A downtown Asheville church’s plans to tear down two buildings it owns in the city’s historically African-American business district received the final approval Friday morning.
The Asheville Downtown Commission voted 7-3 in favor of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s plans to demolish a 10,000-square-foot building built in 1915 at 40 S. Spruce St. and a 15,000-square-foot building built in 1920 at 51. S. Market St. The three-story brick structures housed the operations of Asheville Supply & Foundry until about 1950. The area, which includes Eagle Street and the landmark YMI Cultural Center, is known as The Block.
The area has been the target of redevelopment efforts for 20 years. But while downtown development has boomed over the past two decades, there’s been little development progress on The Block. The church’s efforts to redevelop the buildings have also never come to fruition. Roy Harris, chairman of the church’s trustees, said the buildings have become a financial drain. Homeless people have moved in and trashed the interior, Harris said, and the expense of maintenance and property taxes on the empty buildings has grown too large for the church to bear.
The church’s demolitions plans came as a surprise to the downtown advisory board, which put off making a decision in the hope of finding a way to save the buildings, which have some historical value and remain in good shape. City officials offered to help the church seek tax relief, and offered to lease space from the church for parking. The city said the church pays $13,386 in annual property taxes, and said the church would earn $13,200 a year by leasing 22 parking spaces at $50 per space per month.
Mount Zion’s pastor and president, the Rev. John Grant, wrote to city planner Judy Daniel in a July 9 letter that the church was interested in renting 22 existing parking spaces to the city, and was interested in discussing options on how to save a third church-owned building in the old foundry complex at 35 Eagle St. But Grant, without further explanation, wrote that he wasn’t interested in further negotiations regarding the Spruce and Market streets properties.
Jan Davis, a commission member and Asheville City Council member, said, “I think we as a body have done everything we can do,” and made the motion to allow the demolition.
Commission member Harry Weiss said he understood the church’s reasons for demolition, but opposed the plan.
“I understand why it’s occurring, but I can’t support it,” Weiss said. “I want to go on record as saying this is a bad option. It’s lousy all the way around.”
After the meeting, Harris said demolition may not start for several weeks. The church has to complete a vacation bible school and be sure its timetable fits with the schedule of the demolition crew it plans to hire.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor