TREMONT TEMPLE - A LETTER FROM HMF | FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2014
Historic Macon Foundation's only motivation in working to save Tremont Temple from demolition is to fulfill our mission "to revitalize our community by preserving architecture and sharing history." Today, that means employing comprehensive strategies that save entire neighborhoods for the future. Preservation is especially important in Macon, because our historic architecture is one of our most distinctive assets. If we don't save our old buildings what have we got going for us?
Many of the criticisms leveled at Historic Macon through this process are simply inaccurate and smack of preservation strategies from forty years ago. We are very selective about buildings we try to save. Buildings such as Tremont Temple are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an objective list of the "country's places worthy of preservation" as judged by the National Park Service. Tremont Temple is not just another "old" building; it is special.
Moreover, Historic Macon has offered repeatedly and in writing through a formal contract to purchase Tremont Temple at the same price as the developer who proposes demolition. We are in the habit of finding solutions where everyone wins, and our offer to purchase should be just that. The congregation would receive the same amount of money and receive it sooner by selling for preservation.
Buying this building is an exceptional commitment for us. There is no way we can buy and rehabilitate every important building. We rely on design review laws to protect these buildings so that they are only sold to private developers for preservation and reuse. There are an unfortunate number of empty lots and non-historic buildings downtown where new construction like Dunkin Donuts would be welcome. Why send Tremont to the dump?
Historic Macon is an expert in rehabilitation projects of this type. We have managed rehabilitation and new construction contracts that total over $20 million through 160 projects. After a thorough review by our staff and construction professionals we are certain that we have the financial ability, proven experience and determined will to complete this project.
The proposed demolition doesn't really make sense on any level. Historic Macon's plans to rehabilitate the existing building would add more businesses, create more jobs, pay more property taxes and better utilize the site than a single Dunkin Donuts. In fact, the economic impact of rehabilitating the current building would have six times the economic impact as demolition. The fact that we get to keep a beautiful old building where we can tell visitors about Macon's civil rights movement is a bonus.
Our entire community has a lot of work to do to overcome our divisive racial history. Historic Macon must do more to engage people of color, and build credibility that our concerns to preserve diverse places are genuine. What better place to start than saving the place where Macon's bus boycotts were organized? It does not end there, and it will take us years to integrate the preservation movement across all the lines that divide us.
Looking back on this process, none of it makes much sense. Why in the world would a developer take a contract on a building listed on the National Register without investigating the demolition laws? Then when demolition is denied, why wouldn't the congregation sell it for preservation? A vendetta to tear the building down seems a lot stranger than a non-profit advocating to keep it, and willing to put up their own money to do it.
TREMONT TEMPLE - BULLET POINTS
1) Current Status- The Macon Bibb Planning and Zoning Commission has agreed to rehear the Tremont Temple Baptist Church's request for a permit to demolish their former sanctuary at 860 Forsyth St. The public hearing will be held on Monday, February 24, 2014 at 1:30pm on the 10th floor at 682 Cherry St.
2) Demolition- Tremont has not been singled out for special treatment. Demolition has been subject to these same procedures in Macon for nearly forty years. Tremont deserves special attention from Historic Macon because it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an objective list of the "country's places worthy of preservation" as judged by the National Park Service. Downtown is full of empty lots and unused non-historic buildings, unfortunately, and the developer could have secured any number of these locations for a Dunkin Donuts without a demolition hearing.
3) Condition- The developers who hope to buy the church have two structural engineering reports that exaggerate the condition of the building. The fact is that most of the structure cannot be seen, and these engineers state that they have not examined the building in full. Therefore, these engineers assume that a) everything they cannot see is failing, and b) that the building would need to be brought up to modern code. The quote from Piedmont Construction merely quotes the engineer's scope of work.
4)Cost- Historic Macon Foundation has completed over $20 million in complex rehabilitation projects and is an expert on the acquisition, design, construction, reuse and sale or lease of historic properties. The building could be stabilized, obtain construction permits, meet local inspection standards, be completely rehabilitated, and be put into service into an economically viable fashion.
5) Purchase- We are so confident that the building can be rehabilitated that we offered to purchase the building for the same amount as the developer who would demolish it. The congregation had a choice to sell the building to Historic Macon when it was out of contract, or renew the contract with the developer. If they had accepted our offer, they would already have the money from the sale, and Historic Macon would be at work on the building right now. The congregation will benefit financially to the same degree whether the building is demolished or not. We cannot purchase every endangered historic building, but if that is the only way to save Tremont we are willing to do it.
6) Race- Unquestionably, the preservation movement in Macon has not done enough to engage people of color. If there is a clear call to action for Historic Macon Foundation, it is that we will not have credibility until we develop better diversity programs and increase our membership among people of color, especially African Americans. Still, this building is a major blow to the built heritage of our community, and the lessons of the Civil Rights movement belong to us all, black and white.
7) Proposed Reuse- A Dunkin Donuts on the site will be mostly surface parking, and a small building. It will produce fewer jobs, less property and sales tax revenue and have less square footage than reuse of the building as a food court. By every measure of public benefit, keeping the building is the better choice and still a free-market solution.
8) Quality- The current building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The proposed Dunkin Donuts is not of a quality to ever be considered for listing even in one hundred years. Not that it will be built to last that long...
9) Results- At any time, the Macon-Bibb Buillding Development Services Department could order the building demolished because the most-recent engineering report states the building is in danger of "imminent" collapse. Or the Planning and Zoning Commission could grant or deny the demolition permit. Either way, the congregation has made it clear they will not sell to Historic Macon and no alternate buyer has come forward.
10) Lessons- It is imperative that we develop better partnerships. Preservation cannot afford to continue to be perceived or act as a racially monolithic organization. As a community, we also have to find tools to prevent buildings from slipping into such a state of disrepair that demolition is necessary. Allowing owners to defer maintenance blights the community, reduces surrounding property values, and destroys our most distinctive asset: our historic architecture.