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Small church with ‘big vision’ bringing vibrancy to downtown College Park

College Park community holds official ground-breaking for 60 affordable housing units next to MARTA station on a former church parking lot. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

Tears were flowing freely on Jan. 28 at a ground-breaking ceremony for Tapestry Development’s 60 affordable housing units in downtown College Park next to the MARTA station.

The tears were tears of joy — and tears of relief.

College Park is finally on the cusp of realizing an ambitious, multi-faceted plan to bring new life to the heart of the city.

Tapestry Development’s Jon Toppen at PushPush space in the College Park United Methodist Church before Jan. 28 groundbreaking (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Everyone interviewed credited the College Park United Methodist Church for being willing to walk hand-in-hand with the community as the congregation plotted its own future.

The happily-ever-after story could have turned out much differently. But today, it can serve as a model for other churches and communities facing similar struggles.

Four years ago, the church faced a difficult choice. Its congregation was shrinking to several dozen members, and it had to address $1.5 million in deferred building expenses. So, in January 2019, the church took a sabbatical — spending weeks visiting other churches and exploring its options.

Church member Stuart Gulley, president of the nearby Woodward Academy, stepped in that summer to facilitate conversations about whether the church should close its doors or find a way to continue as a congregation.

“My heart is so full today,” said College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom during the event before the ground-breaking. “This was a congregation that was more than 125 years old that was struggling. It was on the verge of closing its doors.”

Filled with emotion, the mayor asked if anyone had a tissue.

“I just started thinking about the journey and how it looked like it wasn’t going to happen a number of different times,” Motley Broom said later. “To be in the room with so many people who had worked tirelessly to get us to this point was overwhelming. We are going to be able to help densify our downtown core with MARTA next door.”

Many partners helped put together a jigsaw puzzle to get the project off the ground.

Garland Watkins, chair of the church’s board of trustees, explained that the church owned a parking lot right next to the MARTA station, and it also owned other property.

“We had a lot of property and a small congregation,” Watkins said. “Today, we are still a small congregation but with a big vision.”

Sixty affordable apartments going up next to MARTA’s College Park Station (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The church partnered with Good Places to put together a master plan and bring in people and organizations that could realize the dream. Cooper Carey’s Kyle Reis was on Good Places’ advisory board, and he helped make the introduction.

“We brought all the partners together,” said Cherie Ong, co-founder of Good Places, which works with nonprofits and faith institutions. “We said: ‘Please don’t close the church. We can do something.’”

Ong said one of the first moves was connecting the longstanding arts organization – PushPush – with the church. PushPush moved in, providing revenue to the church by leasing space for its offerings.

The plan called for a church parking lot to be converted into an affordable housing residential project with Tapestry Development Group as the developer.

Cherie Ong of Good Places celebrates partnership with College Park United Methodist Church (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Of the 60 units, only 10 will be market rate. The remaining 50 units will have deep affordability at 60 percent area median income or below.

Good Places also converted the church’s education building into 16 live-work lofts – ION – aimed at artists. The cost of the condos range from $155,280 to $195,900 with a monthly homeowners’ association fee of $200.

“There were so many points where it could have fallen apart,” Ong said.

Jon Toppen, president of Tapestry Development, agreed.

“There were multiple hurdles we needed to work through,” said Toppen, who worked closely with the City of College Park and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, to get the necessary financing. “The budget went up 40 percent from our original estimates due to increased construction costs and rising interest rates.”

Rendering of Tapestry Development’s Diamond affordable apartment project in downtown College Park (Special: Tapestry Development)

Mayor Motley Broom said after multiple rounds of tweaking the deal, the project is now well on its way. The apartments are expected to become available for rent 10 months from now.

The various elements of the master plan feed off of each other.

“Our agreement with Tapestry is unique,” said Tim Habeger, co-artistic director of PushPush. “We are providing free access to programming for everyone who lives in the apartment building. The arts change lives. The arts bring economic development. The arts are important for our community.”

As Toppen sees it, the College Park United Methodist Church put the community’s interests at the forefront.

“We are here because the church was willing to take the extra step,” Toppen said. “They could have hired a realtor to sell the property for the highest price.”

Construction of Tapestry’s Diamond development happening right across the street from College Park United Methodist Church. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Stuart Gulley said that’s in keeping with the direction of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“We hope that the way we are doing church now is the church for the future,” Gulley said. “It has to address the community’s needs and open its doors to the community.”

For Mayor Motley Broom, it’s a project she and the city have been working on since her election in 2019.

“We are about to live this vision of 60 families being able to have connectivity to the whole region without carbon emissions,” Motley Broom said. “Let this be a model for the state and the nation for what we can do.”

College Park, with a population of 14,000 people, is in a strategic spot in the region with two MARTA stations – College Park and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“For a community our size, I think we punch above our weight,” Motley Broom said in an interview. “I hope people in the region and across the country see this as a blueprint. There are lots of congregations at a crossroads. What College Park United Methodist Church did will absolutely continue to enrich our community for generations to come.”

Masterplan for Good Places’ Ion development in downtown College Park. (Special: Tapestry Development and Good Places.)

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


1 Comment

  1. Carlotta Ungaro January 31, 2023 1:29 pm

    Great project! FYI, I tried to email the story to someone and it didn’t work. There seems to be something wrong with sharing on this article.Report


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