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In Savannah, downtown churches finding new life, new uses

September 8, 2018

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Downtown churches in Savannah are being sold and repurposed for new uses as their leaders aim to expand congregations or avoid costly repairs to historic properties.

Churches are being transformed at a time when developers are seeking opportunities in areas attracting increasing investment, The Savannah Morning News reported . Also, preservationists hope to save part of Savannah’s history by saving the older structures.

In one case, local architect Christian Sottile is renovating a 106-year-old church in Savannah’s Victorian District, the newspaper reported. He purchased the building in March from the Greater Friendship Baptist Church, which has moved to a new building on Savannah’s south side.

Sottile said he wanted to save the aging building.

“As an architect and historic preservationist, I knew this building needed a lot of work, and I really wanted to make sure it was done properly,” he said.

As he restores the building, he’s still deciding what its best use might be.

Among the possibilities: A studio or boutique office.

“We’re open to ideas with what to do what’s best for the building,” Sottile said. “It’s such an interesting structure.”

Pastor Charles Brown of Greater Friendship said one reason the congregation moved to a new building is that it would have would have cost as much or more to renovate the historic church as it did to purchase their newer, larger building.

“You always miss the heritage of where we were — we’re always going to love that and miss that — but it was just time for us to go somewhere where we could stretch our arms out and grow,” Brown said.

Elsewhere downtown, a development group plans to convert a former church on Bull Street into an event venue in the historic Thomas Square neighborhood’s Starland District.

The venue in the former New Covenant United Methodist Church building is being called The Wesley in honor of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.

It will feature a variety of community and cultural events with organizations such as the Savannah Film Festival, Savannah Music Festival, Savannah Jazz Festival, Savannah Philharmonic and others, Foram Group President Travis Stringer said.

New Covenant has since moved into a church at 7 Canebrake Road and changed its name to Mosaic Church.

The cost of upkeep and maintenance of the historic building that had housed New Covenant was burdensome, and the church decided to move to reach a larger population, said the Rev. Andrew Young, who has served as pastor for 11 years.

“We had the opportunity to reach more people with the good news of the gospel,” Young said.

“We celebrate the fact it was a historic church for people for over 100 years, but the church is the people,” he added.

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Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

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