Mount Zion’s demolition of two buildings delayed

An Asheville church’s plans to tear down two old buildings it owns has been delayed for 30 days in hopes of saving the structures.

Brink of extinction? Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church wants to demolish two historic buildings it owns on The Block. Havens for vagrants and homeless people, the brick structures are expensive to maintain. Photo by Jason Sandford

The demolition plan—a surprise to city officials—is a sensitive subject because the buildings are in The Block, the historic home of Asheville’s African-American business community. Despite 20 years of redevelopment plans, the area has seen comparatively little progress even as downtown has boomed.

That has frustrated the congregation and leaders at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, which wants to take down a 10,000 square foot building at 40 S. Spruce St. (built in 1915) and a 15,000 square foot building at 51. S. Market St. (circa 1920).

Mount Zion bought the buildings to gain control over its surroundings and allow for possible expansion, Roy Harris, chairman of the church’s trustees, explained. But the structures have become a financial burden, Harris told the city’s South Pack Square Redevelopment Committee at a June 8 meeting. Homeless people have trashed the interiors, and the maintenance costs and property taxes are a financial drain.

“Those buildings are income-consuming and not income-producing for us,” said Harris. “Personally, I’m tired of baby-sitting old buildings.” He said the church has no long-term development plans for the property, which could be used for parking.

The committee took no formal action, but Harris’ presentation launched a series of meetings to review the demolition plans. On June 10, the city’s Historic Resources Commission recommended that the Downtown Commission postpone its vote to allow more time for negotiations. Two days later, the Downtown Commission discussed the plan and then continued the matter, stalling the demolition (which had been scheduled to begin June 15) for 30 days.

Members of both groups urged the buildings’ preservation while acknowledging the church’s right to dispose of its property. Harris, meanwhile, was reluctant to negotiate.

Barbara Field, who serves on both the Redevelopment Committee and the board of the adjacent YMI Cultural Center, said the buildings could provide artists’ work space or housing for older residents. “I would hope that there would be some kind of synergy … where those buildings could be preserved,” she said. “I think we all want to see the area grow and blossom.”

Committee member Darryl Hart, who chairs the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corporation, emphasized the church’s right to do what it wants with its property. “Sometimes you have to take action,” he said, adding, “I think we need to look at the big picture and not be quick to criticize.”

Paul Reeves of the local Preservation Society wanted more time to help the church explore options.

Vice Mayor Jan Davis pleaded with Harris, saying, “I would beg you: Trust me for 30 days.” Davis proposed a public/private partnership that would keep the buildings intact while creating a parking area to generate revenue for the church. “I think it’s worth delaying to discuss that,” he said.

Downtown Commission member Guadalupe Chavarria, who voted against the continuance, said: “I just have to ask: Where have you been [over the past several years]?”
“I’ve never seen Asheville do anything in 30 days.”

Harris, meanwhile, stressed the church’s many attempts to get something done.

“We’ve been there. We’ve done that,” he said. “That’s part of our frustration.”

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8 thoughts on “Mount Zion’s demolition of two buildings delayed

  1. hauntedheadnc

    There are too many historic buildings on the chopping block right now — these two, plus 22 Church Street, the Hayes-Hopson Building, and 35 Biltmore Avenue. I know and understand the church’s frustration, but I desperately hope we can save at least these two buildings.

  2. whistler

    Some kind of local grassroots stab at reuse of these buildings in cooperation with Mout Zion might help. “Outside” developers with big condo plans comprised the latest failed development scheme for these buildings. Scaled-down plans with local tenants seems more realistic. Plans for demolition are shortsighted.

  3. LOKEL

    “Don’t build anything new.”

    “Don’t tear anything down.”

    “Keep Asheville the way it was ….”

    These building have been sitting there, vacant, for years – through several “redevelopment studies,” and no one has given a hoot about them (probably didn’t even know they existed), until now.

    The bottom line is, these buildings, historic or not, are PRIVATE PROPERTY and the “Church” has the right to do whatever they wish with them.

    “Let’s turn’em into affordable housing….”

    “Let’s put a Park there ….”

  4. Lokel & HauntedheadNC

    You’re both completely correct –

    One on hand, these buildings have been sitting vacant for years & if one walks the property you will see structural damage with trees & roots growing out of the buildings. One of the buildings has been broken into allowing it to be a refuge for squatting & potentially dangerous situations. You can see vandalism on the inside of structure & it is not a safe place to be even if it has become a safe haven for some.

    No one is more supportive & looking out for opportunities to house a Artists Resource Center and/or Small Business Incubator for the city as a means of spurring economic growth – but these buildings are definitely not it. These historic structures would take far too much work to make it them valuable for public use.

    What do folks actually know or remember about these two decaying structures? Old does not necessarily equal historic.

    The City with one hand attempts to delay the progress for Mt Zion & it’s parishioners who deal with the financial & aesthetic burden of keeping these properties standing but rotting, yet no one from the City has stepped forward with any words, actions, or support to save a building in great usable condition with significant history behind. The Hayes-Hobeson building has direct ties to family histories of Asheville, including the Wolfe family. There are fond memories of the building existing throughout the 20th century as a BBQ restaurant & automotive store. But no representative of the City who has taken issue against the proposed Parkside development which stands to take out this historic building, the infamous Magnolia tree in front of City Hall, and the Pack park land in front of City Hall. We’ll have to wait until the appeal is settled in state courts later this summer, and depending on the outcome that is where we will see if city officials will walk their talk.

    The church has every right to do as they wish with their property. Without some very significant fiscal backing I can not see how these properties could be converted into anything better. I can’t even fathom how much work would need to be done to bring these structures up to safety & building code. At least ground parking space (which the city could negotiate into possible part time public parking) would allow for future notions of better, more sustainable development.

    In the meantime, lets save, preserve, and celebrate the real history of our city & community while also having the good sense to let ourselves grow & develop with reason & wisdom.

    -J.Bowen
    Asheville City Council Candidate, 2009

  5. hauntedheadnc

    With all due respect, Jenny, I imagine that was the same thinking that gave us the other parking lots in downtown that have been there since before you or I were born. “We’ll build something there… in thirty or forty years.”

    Demolition should be the very last resort. Parking lots are more persistent than kudzu. Once they’re in, they’re not going anywhere.

  6. ginnydaley

    While I agree with JBo that old does not mean historic, these old buildings are in fact historically significant.

    For one thing, they provide the only remaining physical and visual link to an aspect of Asheville’s development as a town. This section of town orginally developed as the primary service or industrial sector of downtown. This is where the critical mass of liveries, coal & wood for heating, foundries, carpenters were located in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Asheville Supply & Foundry Co. buildings are (as far as I know) the ONLY remaining buildings representing that aspect of the town’s history/development.

    Also these service industries/businesses employed African Americans in the late 19th century and contributed to this area of town being developed as one of the most significant African American communities in Asheville during Jim Crow.

    Demolishing these buildings won’t alter history, but keeping them in the landscape would provide a visual and visceral link to Asheville’s history and evolution. And while ultimately the buildings might not be feasible to rehab, it seems prudent to go ahead and take the time to explore options before demolition which is irreversable.

  7. Curt Siters

    This makes me sick! A church looking at property as being profitable? Kicking the down trodden? If I weren’t such a nice guy I would say I hope this church goes under. But I say God Bless them! (they need it)

  8. ginny daley

    This is truly a shame. I can see so much more possibility in this property than parking.

    For those of you who asked, the age of these buildings is not what makes them significant. Along with the 3rd Asheville Supply & Foundary building (which Mt. Zion also owns), they provide the only remaining physical and visual link to a significant aspect of Asheville’s development as a town. This section of town originally developed as the primary service or industrial sector of downtown. This is where the critical mass of liveries, coal & wood for heating, foundries, carpenters were located in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Asheville Supply & Foundry Co. buildings are (as far as I know) the ONLY remaining buildings representing that aspect of the town’s history/development.

    Also these service industries/businesses employed African Americans in the late 19th century and contributed to this area of town being developed as one of the most significant African American communities in Asheville during Jim Crow.

    Demolishing these buildings won’t alter history, but keeping them in the landscape would provide a visual and visceral link to Asheville’s history and evolution.

    I wish that a preservation organization would step in and place an option on the property until a suitable buyer could be found. But the current economy makes that difficult and maybe Mt. Zion doesn’t want to sell.

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