A local pastor has applied to tear down the last piece of a nearly century-old building in order to provide more parking spaces for his church and parishioners.
The move to tear down the rest of Echo House, a former nursing home and community center on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, comes about three years after the Rev. Ron Rawls of St. Paul AME Church tried to have the entire building demolished for parking.
Some people had previously voiced opposition to the plan and, in 2014, the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board approved a compromise plan that Rawls submitted to keep part of the building and renovate it. The City Commission upheld the decision when it was appealed.
Rawls said the church is growing and needs to secure more parking, and the church also might lose some temporary parking it has.
He said he expects around 15 to 18 more parking spaces if the rest of the building is removed. About 40 cars can fit in the lot now, he estimated.
“More than a renovated building, we need space to park,” Rawls said.
His demolition application lists parking and a park as proposed uses for the site, and he also said removing the rest of the building would improve the look of the corridor. City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline called Echo House an “iconic building of Lincolnville.”
“I thought the agreement was he would preserve the remaining portion and then use the rest of the property for children’s playground recreation and parking. … I’m disappointed to hear that they haven’t been able to come up with a plan to preserve the building.”
HARB has authority to grant or deny the certificate of demolition.
The HARB hearing for demolishing the rest of Echo House is scheduled for the May 25.
But a building condition assessment that is required for the review hadn’t been filed as of Monday, said city historic preservation officer Jenny Wolfe.
Echo House is listed as a contributing building to the Lincolnville National Register Historic District.
Opened as a community center in the 1920s, the building also served African-Americans who were homeless and needed care at the end of their lives, according to a previous The Record report.
The building has changed hands over the years and fell into poor condition. By 2009, city building officials were calling the building unsafe and said it was suffering from a “severe lack of maintenance.”
The deed to the property now belongs to the St. Paul AME Church, but a clause on the deed remains from when the city controlled the property. The property is required to be used for “nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic” purposes, or the city can take it back.
Church officials had planned to renovate the building and use it for the St. Paul School of Excellence, which later closed its doors.
Rawls has said renovating the structure would be too costly.
Debates about the ignificance of the building, mainly surrounding its condition, were a main focus of the 2014 discussions.
“It was a challenging case for the board to review, and it certainly brought out a lot of emotions. And the thing that we are charged with at the city is maintaining the historic properties that fall (within) our HARB review guidelines, which includes this building,” Wolfe said.