Feb 182014
 
Members of the Coliseum Square Association meet Monday night in the Felicity Church, which is under renovation by a private owner. The association has been advocating for a similar future for the nearby Spanish-American Church building on Sophie Wright Place. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Members of the Coliseum Square Association meet Monday night in the Felicity Church, which is under renovation by a private owner. The association has been advocating for a similar future for the nearby Spanish-American Church building on Sophie Wright Place. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

As the Spanish-American Church heads back to the New Orleans City Council this week for another request to tear down their decaying building on Sophie Wright Place, neighbors and members of the Coliseum Square Association hope the stalemate over the building will lead to stronger enforcement of blight laws against neglectful nonprofits.

The First Spanish-American Baptist Church building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place, photographed in December 2013. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Robert Morris)

The First Spanish-American Baptist Church building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place, photographed in December 2013. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Robert Morris)

The Historic District Landmarks Commission had already denied the church’s request in December to demolish the building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place, but the church is appealing that decision to the full City Council in a hearing scheduled for Thursday. The building is open to the elements, basically just “two walls standing with no support,” the church told the commission, arguing that it cannot be saved.

The commission disagreed, saying that the advanced decay of the building is the church’s fault, that it has appeared in before the commission in progressively worse states over the last 10 years, and that there are people who have already offered to buy and renovate the building. Jim McAlister, president of the Coliseum Square Association, made many of the same points as he spoke against the demolition in December, and at the association’s monthly meeting on Monday evening, he urged members to attend the City Council meeting as well.

“I’m planning on attending and speaking,” McAlister said. “The neighborhood has to be united.”

Part of the problem is that code-enforcement fines are attached to property taxes, but lots owned by nonprofits are exempt from taxes under city law. Kara Renne, who lives a few blocks from the building and walks past it daily, asked what it would take for blighted properties owned by nonprofits to lose their tax-exempt status.

“I’m all for them continuing to maintain exempt status, but not when they have mounting code-enforcement fines,” Renne said.

That, McAlister replied, is an issue the City Council would have to answer.

Monday’s discussion took place in a new meeting location for the association — a former church under renovation. Chris and Jessica Jones bought the 103-year-old Felicity Church about three years ago, and after painstakingly restoring its exterior to keep the elements out, are now renovating the interior. They live in the parsonage house out back, and have used the church’s lofty sanctuary for private art shows and other events.

The Spanish-American church’s building is clearly in bad shape, Chris Jones said, but it could come back in a similar way.

“It’s a shame that it’s such a problem,” Jones said. “It seems like something could be done with it. Certainly there’s the know-how in this neighborhood to figure out a use for the building. There are ways to make it function.”

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  • ultimateliberal

    Never realized there was a “church” on Sophie Wright. Why no pic? Where is it positioned with relation to St Mary St? Thank you.

    • UptownMessenger

      Thanks for the comment. I added the link to the previous article and a photo of the building in question. The church itself is at the corner of St. Mary.

    • Joanne Hilton

      The church itself is a lovely, well-kept building on the corner, and has been a Coliseum Square neighbor since before there was a Coliseum Square Association. I pass it several times a day. It would be nice if you (Uptown Messenger) would also show a picture of the church sanctuary building also.

  • Joanne Hilton

    I think this church should be afforded the same consideration St. Peter Claver was when they requested the right to tear down (or to allow a neighbor to tear down) a blighted piece of property, considered historic, next to their church/school. One day I accidently turned on a replay of an HDLC meeting where representatives from the church (Spanish-American Baptist Church, if I remember the name correctly) were appearing. I was frankly shocked at the rude behavior of one commissioner, a Mr. Shields, toward these Hispanaic applicants. I had never seen such a response toward other ethnic minority applicants who often appear at those meetings, particularly those from St. Peter Claver with a similar issue. However it turns out, all applicants should be treated with respect, no matter what language they speak.

    • Joanne Hilton

      Just for clarification, the HDLC meeting(s) I am referencing occurred several years ago, NOT the most recent one in December. I was dismayed enough, at the time, to write to the Commissioner(s) with my observation and concern for fairness and equal treatment in discourse, whatever the outcome.

  • Fat Harry

    Non-profit property owners like this are one of the biggest problems in city. Over 60% of the parcels in the city are OFF the tax rolls, regardless of whether the use of the property is for non-profit purposes or in furtherance of an organization. We all pay mega $$$ for police, fire, roads, etc. used by these properties that pay nothing in return.