June 17, 2008

Wayside demolition plan still wrecking East Downtown vibes

If things go as Wayside Christian Mission plans, the three buildings that comprise its Market Street frontage would be piles of rubble at the end of this month, replaced in time by a large, streamlined structure intended to better accommodate the hundreds of women and children who spend their days and nights there. 

The facades of those buildings would be spared, at least in theory, from the demolition, and incorporated into the new structure. That, says Nina Moseley, Wayside’s chief operating officer, is her agency’s part of a compromise made with the East Downtown Business Association some years ago, before many of EDBA’s current membership came around. 

But EDBA contests that any such arrangement existed, and at its regular meeting last Wednesday voted 18-3 to oppose the demolition of the buildings, regardless of whether their facades are preserved. The group’s position is that the buildings — particularly the two Civil War-era Victorian-style structures near the eastern edge of the property — are intrinsically valuable to the vibe, rhythm and character of the neighborhood, an arts district that has attracted recent investment in part because of its history. 

“This is pretty site-specific down here: We’re down here because of these buildings,” Michael Brohm, a resident who lives nearby, said. “To have somebody then wanting to destroy the very reason we’re down here is what has pushed us against that demolition.” 

The EDBA vote is largely symbolic; Wayside owns the property, and the area is not protected by any historic designation, so the agency can level the buildings with or without the neighbors’ approval. As such, an owner of property nearby has petitioned the Landmarks Commission to make a consideration for the buildings, shielding them from the wrecking ball. That is expected to come up for a hearing sometime next week. 

Meanwhile, at least one property owner has offered to buy what’s on the Wayside footprint — 67,000 square feet under roof plus outdoor area — and another offered a new rendering of the Wayside expansion plans that includes the buildings in question pro bono. However, Moseley said the agency has already considered that and found the buildings to be at odds with Wayside’s plans for several reasons, including their advanced state of dilapidation. 

Photo by Jane Mattingly: Part of Wayside’s expansion plan is to demolish three buildings on East Market Street
Photo by Jane Mattingly: Part of Wayside’s expansion plan is to demolish three buildings on East Market Street

Neighbors have raised the idea that Wayside find a new campus, and some have offered ideas for a new locale, all of which Moseley said are unacceptable. Bill Marzian, head of EDBA, said he’d prefer that Wayside stay in the neighborhood but preserve the buildings. 

“We’ve fought every demolition of every building in the area and surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. Marzian and others have stressed that their opposition is not to Wayside’s mission but to this particular of its expansion plans, which are expected to cost as much as $4.5 million. 

Metro Councilman David Tandy, D-4, said his office is trying to facilitate further discussion, adding that he believes a compromise can be achieved. 


Contact the writer at 

sgeorge@leoweekly.com