COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church congregation has been meeting on a swatch of south Columbus land since 1884. But by late next year, the congregation will move, making way for a new highway interchange at Cusseta Road.
The development has a lot of moving parts, with a major impact from Cusseta Road to Second Avenue. Through it all, Mt. Pilgrim senior pastor David Stallion said he sees the hand of God in the 137-year-old congregation’s move.
“We believe that it was all divinely done,” said Stallion. “We believe that this was the year and that this is the time for us to play a major role in the economic development of this community.”
That economic development includes low to moderate housing on the banks of the Chattahoochee River along Second Avenue in the newly created Mill District, a redevelopment zone that stretches from downtown to Bibb and North Highland.
But it all spins back to Mt. Pilgrim and how to handle the touchy situation of relocating a historic black church for a road project.
The church has been at 4400 Old Cusseta Road for 137 years. The existing sanctuary was built in 1967, before an interstate ran next to it.
To create a needed interchange at Cusseta Road, the church would have to be purchased and torn down.
Stallion says that the church and its nearly 300 members did not look to the past – rather they looked into the future.
“We know that the interchange is going to make way for easy access to this area,” Stallion said. “We have Spencer High School right down the road and there’s a great construction project going on with the new sports complex. So, easier access. And we know a lot of these developers like to look for places close to interstates. That would be an opportunity for other developers to come in and to develop in our area.”
Through a deal with the city and the Housing Authority of Columbus, the church will be moving up Farr Road.
The land is being prepared for a building, which should start to come out of the ground in December.
Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge praised the way Stallion and the church handled the situation.
“This was one of those missing pieces,” Hodge said. “Coordination with the church, which was so important. We wanted to make they were whole, and they were happy with relocation for this interchange to even move forward. Rev. Stallion has been great to work with when he was interested in relocating the church it made this project a reality.”
It was because of the way Stallion and the church approached it.
“It was a collective effort by the members of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church that came together collectively to make that decision that we would make such a great sacrifice as we have done,” Stallion said.
The city has paid the church $2 million for the property. They are being given the land on Farr Road and most of the building permits are being waived.
The church-city-Housing Authority deal in South Columbus will also help change the Mill District, more than five miles away.
A new Chase Homes between Second Avenue and the Chattahoochee River was already planned as the public housing complex was coming down late last year.
The land the Housing Authority will get from the city is adjacent to that new development, just to the north. It is a combination of smaller tracts that create a place for a second phase of the new Chase project. It includes a city pavilion on the Riverwalk that will be demolished by the city before the final pieces of the deal are completed.
“It worked for them. It added on to their redevelopment efforts on Second Avenue,” Hodge said.
But for all of that to work, things had to first work for the Mt. Pilgrim congregation.
“A large part of this is going to be of a great sacrifice to the members of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church,” Stallion said. “And that sacrifice really explains how we feel about our community and want to see a change in our community.”