Friday, June 16, 2017

St. Augustine residents have ten (10) months to save ECHO HOUSE from demolition -- yes we can!

Thanks to HARB for its 4-0 vote, and to Teresa Segal and other historic preservationists. We've got ten  months to work with Rev. Rawls to save the remaining part of Echo House.  Yes we can!

Posted June 16, 2017 04:58 am - Updated June 16, 2017 05:18 am
St. Augustine Record
Rest of St. Augustine Echo House OK’d for demolition — but there’s a catch

St. Paul AME Church pastor Rev. Ron Rawls got clearance Thursday to demolish the remaining piece of Echo House, a more than 90-year-old building in Lincolnville.

But there’s a catch.

While the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board approved 4-0 the certificate of demolition, they did it with the understanding that Rawls would wait for 10 months before demolishing the building.

The time delay is to open the door for people in the community to work with Rawls on ways to save the property that won’t use church funds.


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Echo House was built in the 1920s and was a former community center and nursing home that served African-Americans who were homeless and needed care at the end of their lives.

In 2014, HARB allowed Rawls to have part of Echo House demolished for more church parking, which he did. The City Commission upheld that decision on appeal. The plan in 2014 also included that St. Paul AME Church would build space for St. Paul School of Excellence students, including a playground, on the site and eventually renovate the remaining piece.

But the school is no longer in existence, and Rawls said the church is growing and needs more parking — and the church could also lose parking at a Catholic church nearby. Demolishing the rest of Echo House would add about 15 spaces, he said.

HARB reviews demolition requests for buildings of a certain designation, such as landmarks, and those that are 50 years old and older.

The board delayed his demolition request in May, asking him to bring forward an updated report on the building’s condition.

Rawls didn’t bring the information Thursday, but pointed to information already on file with the city such as a previous condition assessment. He also detailed the property’s history and the church’s involvement.

“It would be nearly foolish to look at the city of St. Augustine as either a hero or savior as it relates to this property,” he said. “Both the city of St. Augustine and St. Paul owned this property for a period of seven years, separated by a time span of 42 years. The difference is, the city of St. Augustine neglected the property and made what appeared to be $0 worth of improvements over its seven years of ownership.”

The church changed hands and purposes over the years. After the church took over, it invested $27,000 in the building to save it from potential demolition ordered by the city, Rawls said. The church later invested $75,000 both for its partial demolition and asbestos remediation, he said.

Rawls said the church’s plans for the site have been treated with bias because the city wants to reclaim the building for its value. He said a city consultant had approached him about acquiring the property.

Also, HARB member Randal Roark said in May that he thought it would be “worthwhile looking at the option to give the building back to the city.”

“I would have to be dead and under a grave and everybody in my church disappear before the city of St. Augustine gets ownership of that property,” Rawls said.

A reverter clause property says it has to be used for nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic purposes or the city can take it back. Parking for the church would fit those criteria, said Assistant City Attorney Denise May.

The building is important to African-American history, HARB member Toni Wallace said. Also, it’s the board’s job to consider whether a property has historic value.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that the city pushes this property because it’s a valuable piece of property from a monetary point of view,” she said. “It is a valuable piece of property because it is … one of the few institutional contributing structures to the National Register Historic District [of Lincolnville].”

Theresa Segal, member of the Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area Steering Committee, spoke in support of keeping the building, saying there are “precious few” institutional buildings left in Lincolnville.

“I hope the story of Echo House doesn’t end here today,” she said.

A few people also spoke in support of Rawls’ plan.

Wallace brought up using funds from the Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Area to restore the property. Segal also mentioned funding available with the CRA.

The CRA, which uses a portion of property tax revenues to fund improvements in the area, has its own steering committee that is governed by the City Commission.

“I don’t trust the city of St. Augustine in that way to take money and tie it to our ownership,” Rawls said.

May said CRA funding is out of the board’s purview, but anything tied to CRA grants wouldn’t require ownership.


Mindy Joy
Rev Ron Rawls has a right good head on his shoulders.

Lisa Averill
Smart man. I only hope that funds can be contributed for its restoration and use so that its former legacy can continue.

Lance Davidson
Who from the city of St Augustine was making moves to take the church?

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