Jul 25, 2023 - Development

A century-old church in Plaza Midwood will be redeveloped into an arts campus

Plaza Presbyterian Church

Plaza Presbyterian Church. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

A church that dates back to the 1920s on a prominent corner of The Plaza will be salvaged and redeveloped into a cultural arts hub.

What’s happening: Arts+, a Charlotte nonprofit that for more than 50 years has worked to make arts education accessible, will renovate Plaza Presbyterian Church.

  • It will take three years to upfit the church, with construction likely starting within a year and a half, according to an announcement from the nonprofit Tuesday.
  • Once complete, the property will house Arts+ offices, Charlotte Youth Choir, summer camps, and music and visual arts programs. It will also create much-needed space for other local organizations.

Why it matters: Charlotte, sometimes called the “City of Churches,” has seen many of its houses of worship torn down in recent years and replaced with apartments or other new development. The Arts+ campus is one of the rare cases where a historic church’s architecture will be preserved.

  • The project will maintain as much of the three buildings, including the sanctuary, as possible, according to Arts+.
  • It’s located on 2.19 acres, where Parkwood and Mecklenburg avenues meet.

What they’re saying: “Just to envision what this type of campus could mean to the immediate surrounding area, and the broader area as well, it’s exciting to think about — to be able to have that type of resource to nonprofits who struggle for space,” says Devlin McNeil, president and executive director at Arts+. “I’ve been living it. So I know how difficult it can be.”

Plaza Presbyterian Church. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Details: Arts+ will campaign to raise $15 million to $18 million for the construction. A few million of that will go into an endowment for yearly operations.

  • The old preschool building is in good shape, but a third building that will house offices may call for more remediation, McNeil tells Axios. The sanctuary will take the most work.
  • “We want to make sure that it is a functional, higher-quality, performance theater space,” McNeil says, “and we would obviously preserve the outside structure and as much of the inside as we can, with the stained glass and the arches.”

Context: Arts+ has been searching for a permanent home since it moved out of Spirit Square in 2021, after two-plus decades there. Spirit Square closed for the construction of a new main library and a mixed-use development, displacing several nonprofits. Temporarily, Arts+ has been at Ascend Nonprofit Solutions in Uptown.

Go deeper: Charlotte theater companies lack funding and space

  • Meanwhile, the Presbytery of Charlotte, which has more than 90 churches in the southern piedmont, was searching for parties interested in bringing a new use to the old church. Plaza Presbyterian Church held its final worship service in June 2022. The church closed due to declining membership and financial strains.

Zoom out: Churches all over are increasingly looking to sell their old buildings. It’s often more cost effective to rent space in schools or shopping malls, as the Charlotte Ledger reported.

  • Over the last three years, only about 30% of U.S. adults surveyed by Gallup said they had attended a religious service in the past seven days.

Zoom in: Sometimes church buildings are saved when they’re purchased, as was the case with Supperland restaurant in Plaza Midwood and The Church on Parkwood apartments in Villa Heights.

  • Other times, they’re demolished and their prime real estate is given fresh life. Johnston Memorial Presbyterian Church on 36th Street, for instance, was razed for a multi-story apartment building underway called Centro NoDa.
  • In a controversial move, Sharon United Methodist Church in SouthPark, along with its landmark steeple, was bulldozed and replaced with a mixed-use development a few years ago. The project included a new home for the congregation.

What’s next: Arts+ and The Presbytery expect to finalize a 50-year lease by November. Construction may start about 12 months after that, McNeil says.

Plaza Presbyterian Church. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
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