Activists to rally to save Second Baptist from demolition on Friday

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The battle to prevent Second Baptist Church from being demolished continues, as activists plan to rally at 13 W. Franklin St. beside The Jefferson Hotel on Friday.

A coalition of activists is rallying from 6 to 7 p.m., boycotting the hotel and its plans to tear down the historic site in favor of new development. Activists argue the building should be restored for its historic value and blame city government for its failure to follow its own procedures.

Although the city’s planning department said the building could not be torn down until an application is filed and reviewed by the city’s Commission of Architectural Review, the city changed its position and upheld an October 1992 Richmond City Council decision that said Second Baptist could be demolished.

 

After learning about the city’s decision, activists from Historic Richmond, Preservation Virginia and others expressed their disapproval through rallies and news conferences.

Their efforts paid off. At a City Council meeting in February, the architectural review commission penned a letter to the council, formally reinforcing their opposition to the demolition.

After the rise of public pressure, city leadership reached an informal agreement with the hotel’s owner, Richmond businessman William H. Goodwin Jr., to delay demolition for three months while the hotel owner explores other options for the site.

 

Although an accord was struck, activists aren’t sitting on their heels in this battle. Jennie Dotts, a real estate expert with Long and Foster and a longtime preservationist, says residents are appalled by the mishandling of new development and historic structures.

“There’s a group of people of all different ages and demographics who are, for the most part, appalled that this exquisite architectural landmark is being demolished by a billionaire who allowed it to fall into disrepair and use that as justification for tearing it down,” Dotts said.

Dotts is a member of the Old House Authority, an organization that helps extend the life of traditional old houses in Richmond. She says Second Baptist is one of those places that make Richmond feel like Richmond.

From Dotts’ perspective, the city has been inconsistent in how it’s managed the demolition of Second Baptist and historic sites. She said what’s happening with Second Baptist is indicative of how some business or homeowners are treated differently than others.

“From a social justice angle, I’m really outraged,” Dotts said. “Why is this person getting preferential treatment, and why is the city more concerned about supporting them while every other Richmond property owner has to play by certain rules?”

Alyssa Holliday, a homeowner living in Jackson Ward for about 15 years and a board member of the Historic Jackson Ward Association, echoed Dotts’ sentiments

During her time in Jackson Ward, Holliday became invested in the community and in the background of Richmond’s most historic neighborhood. When she first moved in, she said her intention was to build on its historic value.

“I didn’t know the history of Jackson Ward when I first moved in, but I was very aware that as a white woman, I’m moving into a Black neighborhood and the dangers of gentrification,” Holliday said. “So I wanted to try to do my best to not fall into that category.”

Since that time, Holliday has learned a great deal about Jackson Ward and its importance in Richmond’s historical landscape through stories from her neighbors and investing time into the community.

Holliday said she’s witnessed how the city has mishandled longtime homeowners of historic homes, and what’s happening at Second Baptist fits that pattern of mismanagement.

“It’s basically the same pattern that I’ve seen where I live happening just across the street,” Holliday said. “Maybe it’s not directly in my neighborhood, but that’s not the point. The point is that money shouldn’t allow you to skirt the different procedures and policies that the average resident or anybody else has to go through.”

They will have the support of a broader coalition of activists that gathered more than 500 signatures pledging to boycott the hotel and protect Second Baptist.

 

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