As plans to demolish a 115-year-old Richmond church get new life, so does the fight to save it

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A plan to demolish a historic church in Richmond is facing backlash. According to an application filed in September, owners of the famous Jefferson Hotel plan to tear down the hotel’s neighbor, the 115-year-old Second Baptist Church.

The Second Baptist Church has lived at the corner of West Franklin and South Adams streets since 1906. However, it hasn’t been an active church for quite some time.

“My understanding is that it has been used for storage,” said Cyane Crump, the executive director of Historic Richmond, a local non-profit focused on revitalizing and preserving historic neighborhoods in Richmond.

According to the application, Historic Hotels of Richmond plans to tear it down and landscape the area.

“There are so many opportunities for this building to be alive and in active use in the future,” Crump said.

She called it one of the city’s most beautiful pieces of historic architecture. The church sanctuary was designed by William C. Noland of Noland and Baskervill, one of Richmond’s prominent architects and founder of the firm that is now known as Baskervill, according to Historic Richmond’s website. The historic Second Baptist’s sanctuary building is a monumental neoclassic temple with a columned portico. The nonprofit said it is considered the finest design of its kind in Richmond.

This is not the organization’s first time around the block. Crump said about 30 years ago, Historic Richmond fought against a plan to tear the church down — and ultimately won.

“We are hearing from lots of those folks again today,” Crump said. We are hearing from lots of supporters who care a lot about the structure and would like to see it rehabilitated.”

Public records show that the Jefferson’s owners applied to demolish the church this September. Since it’s in an Old and Historic District, tearing the building down needs approval from another commission, the Commission of Architectural Review. According to the city’s planning director, Kevin Vonck, the owner has not yet sought that approval.

Crump says tearing it down would be a big loss.

“This area is a perfect example of how historic preservation has helped bring people back downtown,” she told 8News Wednesday.

Vonck said the application will remain “on hold” until Historic Hotels of Richmond successfully finishes the full approval process. In this case, the city code says the owner has to show that there are no feasible alternatives to demolishing the church.

8News did not get a reply from the owners on Wednesday.

Crump said the non-profit doesn’t have any “preconceived notions” regarding how the church should be adapted. According to their online post, past adaptive reuse plans considered for the property included a fitness facility, swimming pool, offices and housing.

“Similar historic structures have been reused for retail shops, restaurants and even a food hall,” the post wrote. “Historic rehabilitation tax credits have a proven record of incentivizing revitalization and economic development in historic districts and could be used to help finance a project. With or without the financial assistance of tax credits, we can see Second Baptist’s refreshed exterior housing any number of amenities to burnish the hotel’s five stars and to enhance the visitor experience to Richmond.”

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