It was a little more than two years ago that we shared the news that the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church at 17th & Fitzwater was listed for sale for $3M. The congregation has an incredibly rich history which dates back roughly 200 years, and has spanned half a dozen locations. Their most recent location, the building at 1640 Fitzwater St., also has some history to it, having been constructed shortly before the Civil War and housing several churches before FC Wesley Methodist arrived in 1944.
The $3M price tag was too high two years back, though it didn’t stop us from speculating on the possibilities of developers buying the building, tearing it down, and building four high end homes. With multi-family zoning, we also suggested the idea of demolition and the construction of condo buildings, a strategy we’re seeing just a block away on Bainbridge, at the site of the former New Light Beulah Baptist Church. We threw out the idea of adaptive reuse as well, though that strategy seemed like the least lucrative approach. We did say though, that if the building got designated as historic prior to a sale, adaptive reuse would be the only path forward. And wouldn’t you know it, within a few months, the Preservation Alliance nominated the building for the local historic register, changing the calculus for anyone thinking about buying the property.
Attorney Charles Peruto bought the former church and the adjacent two buildings toward the end of 2016, well after the nomination application went through. So he knew what he was getting into, and he was willing to pay $1.65M. His plans include converting the former church into a single family home, which we assume he’ll maintain as his personal residence. The project will also create three parking spaces for the home in the former church, and one parking space for a newly built home to the south. Without question, this will be one of the most impressive residences in the neighborhood, and maybe the whole city.
In a vacuum, this is a triumph of a project. We’re thrilled that this sacred space will be repurposed and maintained, especially considering that this neighborhood has lost more than its share of churches over the last decade. To play devil’s advocate though, we mentioned that this church has been around for a very long time, and we strongly believe that they would have gotten more money for their property without the historic designation. We’ve said this before, but there’s something that makes us uneasy about the idea of a congregation losing out on income from selling its sole asset, purely in the interest of maintaining an old building. In the past, we’ve proposed that the City create a program to fill that gap, because it just doesn’t seem fair that a religious institution should have to bear this burden. We’d be thrilled to hear any alternate suggestions, if anyone has some thoughts on the subject.