Blue Ridge, Ga. – Growth and change continue to come to downtown Blue Ridge. With all new projects comes some debate from the local residents, and the latest construction involving the property previously occupied by the Blue Ridge United Methodist Church (BRUMC) showed no exception as citizens took to social media to vocalize their feelings on the progress of the downtown area.
Many considered the Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to be a landmark of Blue Ridge and a building that enhanced the feel of small town rural America, adding charm to the city. For others the church was more than a building, it was also a place of memories made from generations of family worship.
Dena Johnson stated in part via social media, “I understand growth. But couldn’t we have kept downtown small? And let growth occur somewhere else.”
Many echoed Johnson’s sentiment regarding Blue Ridge and the demolition of church, but others took a different stance.
“So negative… it will always be a beautiful small town with wonderful people,” resident Dana Chastain commented on the social media thread, adding, “Growth is good. It’s inevitable in any town. Embrace it and be positive. I love how our town has grown and I’m proud to be a local. I’m lucky to call this place home.”
The Blue Ridge United Methodist Church had plans on relocating and selling their downtown property for several years with an initial Capital Campaign “Laying the Foundation for the Future” fundraiser ending in 2013. The need for a new place of worship arose from the church’s own growth and the needs of its congregation.
The downtown building was not handicap accessible (by ADA standards) and with an aging congregation the stairs and hills on the property were posing a challenge. The church’s website noted that upon the first visit of the congregation to the new property on Orvin Lance Drive “Several noted how large it (the property) is. Others marveled that you could go anywhere on the property without walking up stairs or going up a hill.”
The size of the downtown property was another determining factor in the need for BRUMC to find a new location. In order to expand or update their facilities on the existing property, available parking would need to be removed. Parking that was already scarce downtown and the removal of even more spaces did not work for a growing congregation.
The downtown property sat on 1.62 acres with vertically being the only way to expand. The new property sits on just over 10 acres and will be able to be developed by the church to fit their needs as they continue to grow.
There was some divide in the church on whether to sell the downtown property knowing what fate the building would likely see. The church’s website notes that before the congregation voted on whether to sell, Reverend Herzen Andone “spoke to the congregation, noting how men and women of faith and good may and often will disagree on issues such as the vote before the body. He emphasized that we shouldn’t consider the outcome of this as having winners and losers; but as persons in Christian fellowship expressing our conscience in good faith, while keeping the unity of the congregation”.
The result of the vote was 68 persons voting to approve the sale, 16 persons voting against and one abstention. With the vote final the church moved forward in unison toward their goal with the new facility.
According to Fannin County Tax Records Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC. purchased the downtown property, which consists of multiple lots, for $1,750,000.00.
FYN spoke with a developer with Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC. about the purchase and the future of 322 West Main Street in Blue Ridge.
The developer echoed much of what was said from BRUMC. Like the church, when looking into proposed development of the area, there was no way to use the existing building because of ADA regulations. Beyond there being no handicap access to the building itself there was also many issues within the building, such as doorways being too small, that made preservation and use of the building nearly impossible.
While demolition took place only recently, Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC. actually completed the purchase of the property in March 2018. According to the developer, Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC. agreed that BRUMC could continue use of the property, rent free, while they awaited the completion of their new building. This is why construction and development of the site was delayed for over a year after the purchase.
“We also allowed them to remove whatever architectural details from the building that they wanted including the doors, stained glass windows, pews, kitchen appliances, light fixtures, cabinets, and most importantly the bells,” the developer went on to tell FYN.
Church member Gary Keel backed up Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC.’s account of the transaction, “It was a handshake agreement. They said they would love to help the group, and we agreed that they would give us (the church) a thirty day notice before we needed to leave. We kept up the insurance, but they let us continue to use the building, rent free, for 18 months.”
“It gave us that transition,” Keel said explaining that when the property sold the new church had not been built. “It was really amazing for a buyer not to use the property immediately, and to let us continue to use it just on a handshake.”
FYN obtained an architectural rendering of the proposed project to be constructed on the site.
“As you will see from the rendering, we have taken a great deal of time and effort to make sure that the new project is in keeping with the “small town” appearance of Blue Ridge,” the developer said of the proposed development, adding, “Located in the breezeway between the buildings will be an architectural feature commemorating the site of the United Methodist Church, which will include some of the salvaged bricks.”
The new development will be a two story structure capable of housing multiple shops. Not shown in the rendering is a two level proposed parking garage that will be located behind the structure to help alleviate some of the parking issues faced in downtown Blue Ridge.
Hawthorne Ventures Blue Ridge, LLC. is currently in the process of submitting plans to the State Fire Marshall and hopes to begin construction in the upcoming months.
“It was a great building,” Keel spoke of his feelings on the church’s move, “It served its purpose over many years, and now we are able to continue to grow.”
The Blue Ridge United Methodist Church held their first service at their new location on Oct. 13 at 10 a.m.
If anyone is interested in getting more information about the project or would be interested in leasing space, they may contact Re/Max Town and Country at 706-946-6867.