The vision was right. I am convinced of that. The liquor store had to go. It was a magnet for predators who preyed upon the South Atlanta neighborhood. But this mission was about more than removing a blight. It was about reclaiming a piece of precious history – a neighborhood theatre and rows of stores that held treasured memories for the seniors of South Atlanta. To renovate a derelict building and transform it for redemptive uses was more than a real estate decision – it was a vision to inspire an entire community, declaring in a highly visible way that it was indeed possible for new life to return. There were so many "little miracles" that confirmed this undertaking to be something significantly more than someone's bright idea. The $300,000 acquisition cost appeared virtually unsolicited, allowing us to pay cash for the building. GlenCastle Constructors, the consortium of top Atlanta builders, agreed to take on the management of the project pro bono. An architectural firm offered to donate the design work. John Wieland Homes volunteered to grade the parking lot and sidewalks. Gibbs Landscaping produced a handsome landscape design and offered to donate its installation. These seemed to be clear signs that the project had the magnetic force of a true vision.
But like the farmer in the Biblical parable who woke up one morning to find that weeds were appearing everywhere in his wheat field, we began to encounter all sorts of unexpected problems. The first was Abdella, owner of a poorly stocked convenience store who leased space in our building. He was unwilling to negotiate a reasonable buy-out on the remainder of his lease and so we had to do construction work around him, causing considerable delays and substantial expense. Another surprise lay hidden beneath layers of old roofing – all of the decking was rotted and would need to be replaced. The roof demolition revealed rusted steel girders resting on crumbling cinder block walls – walls so badly deteriorated that they required force-filled concrete reinforcement. This was only the beginning. New paint will not adhere to the theatre walls; pressure washing will not remove old paint from the porous concrete blocks and sand-blasting lead-based paint would trigger environmental dangers. Expensive high-pressure equipment was needed.
Then came the issue of parking. New city code mandated 109 parking spaces, or virtually an entire city block of land. A zoning variance was needed to reduce the number to a reasonable level. More drawings, public hearings, delays. Paving our gravel parking lot was also a requirement and a non-porous surface increases run-off. A hydrology study was required to determine the need for on-site retention. More cost, more delays. Nervous city site-development bureaucrats ruled that it would be necessary to create a retention system in the parking area. More civil engineering, mounting construction costs, more delays. New water meters and backflow valves were necessary. Before the trenches could be refilled, a car veered off the road and plunged into the open ditch, tearing up the newly completed plumbing. More cost, more delay. Then some good news, or so it would seem. Georgia Department of Transportation decided to pave the potted road in front of the building, giving us a fine new surface. Unfortunately, the new street level was two inches above the curb. The first rain flooded our newly refurbished storefronts. Curbs and sidewalks must be raised. More engineering, more costs, more delays.
All the while, life in the neighborhood goes on as usual. Our building is broken into sixteen times, several construction workers are robbed at gun point, a truck is stolen from the site in broad daylight in plain view of its stunned owner, two street deaths occur within sight of our work crews, Abdella the grocer is held up and shot, one bullet each to his head and chest. Workers find him in the building, near dead in a pool of blood. The decision is finally made to hire off-duty police to provide security and thick security glass with steel grills is ordered for the building. More cost.
If we could have anticipated all these "weeds" we might well have elected to tear the building down and build a new one. But, then, that would have missed the point altogether. This vision is not about a building. It is about reclaiming territory that has fallen under enemy control. It is about establishing a beachhead in dangerous terrain, raising a visible flag to signal the arrival of a new Regime, and waging a costly peace. But what should we make of all the troubles? Well, the parable of the farmer and his weed problem is a metaphor of a Kingdom that has arrived and is yet to come. Opposition goes with the territory. Let the weeds and the good grain grow together, the Master instructs. In due season the harvest will arrive. We may not receive the farmer of the year award for the most efficient or cost-effective harvest, but we are assured of reaping abundant fruit from our investments. And He’ll take care of the weeds.
PS: We hope to be ready for a grand opening this October, barring the appearance of any more unexpected obstacles!