Travelers Rest Baptist Church, founded 75 years ago, was once the pillar of the Tobie Grant Manor community in Scottdale. Now, the 5,984-square-foot church at 554 George Howell Way sits in the middle of a boarded-up housing project, waiting for the wrecking ball to come crashing all around the church any day now.
The DeKalb Housing Authority is partnering with NorSouth Development to demolish the aging housing project that surrounds the church. Through the public-private partnership, the Housing Authority and NorSouth are building a $34 million upscale, mixed-use development that will include rent-assisted and market-rate apartments, as well as single-family homes for families and seniors. Demolition is set to begin by the end of May and construction by the end of August, officials say.
Church officials say they the development has put them in a bind. Travelers Rest is the only privately-owned property in Tobie Grant and it would like to move to make way for the development.
“Can you imagine worshipping the Lord on Sunday morning and as soon as you walk out of the church, all you see is demolition and destroyed units?” said Pastor Barrett Johnson, who has served as pastor of Travelers Rest for nine years.
Johnson said the DeKalb Housing Authority has offered the church $140,000 for the property, which includes the 5,948-square-foot church building and .62 acres. The price, Johnson said, is far below the church’s asking price of $900,000. The church is still settling mortgage obligations to pay for renovations that were completed about five years ago and the property as part of Scottdale is considered prime real estate offering an attractive central location to downtown Atlanta, Decatur and Stone Mountain.
“What they are offering is not enough. We just want a fair deal,” said Johnson, who met with the Housing Authority officials in March but reached no agreement.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist who is serving as an advisor to Johnson, agrees the offer is too low for the church to move and start over somewhere else.
“The offer they made is not acceptable. The most reasonable thing for the Housing Authority to do is to partner with NorSouth to pay the difference to the church,” Hutchins said. “They can’t seriously expect people to drive through a warzone to worship.”
A spokesman for the Housing Authority said everything possible would be done to ensure that the church is able to function during the construction.
“We know that Travelers Rest Baptist Church has been a pillar in the community for generations and we want them to continue to be a great neighbor to us,” said Paula Gwynn Grant, director of Communications and Community Development at the Housing Authority of DeKalb County.
Officials say the development will be built with a mix of conventional financing, low-income tax credits and $15 million in tax-exempt bonds.
The Tobie Grant site, the last housing project in DeKalb, will be similar to the Brookleigh mixed-use development that the Housing Authority and NorSouth built at the former Johnson Ferry East public housing complex in North DeKalb.
Hutchins says Travelers Rest should receive the same consideration as the historic churches in Atlanta received when the city embarked on building a new Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta.
In August 2013, city officials reached a $19.5 million deal on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons to buy Friendship Baptist Church, one of two churches key to the location of the planned Falcons stadium. In September, Mount Vernon Baptist Church sold for $14.5 million to make room for the new stadium.
“We’re not going to just lie down and let the Housing Authority do this to this historic church,” said Hutchins. “The DeKalb Housing Authority cannot expect the members of this church to drive through destruction and demolition on a narrow pathway to come and worship.”