By Collin Kelley
Ten arts organizations from Decatur and DeKalb County signed off on a proposal to save the old Scott Boulevard Baptist Church sanctuary from the wrecking ball and transform it into a performing arts center.
The proposal was sent to Fuqua Development, which plans to turn the Scott Boulevard property, located across the street from Suburban Plaza, into a mixed-use residential and retail center called Decatur Crossing.
Louise Runyon, a dancer and director of Louise Runyon Performance Company, was one of the signers of the proposal. She has also been high profile in her role in Good Growth DeKalb to try and prevent the building of a Walmart Supercenter at Suburban Plaza.
“The proposal we sent to Fuqua asks that the sanctuary building be preserved,” Runyon said. “There are numerous attached buildings that could go, but the sanctuary is the most visible and historic.”
Runyon said ever since Beacon Hill Arts Center was closed in Decatur, there’s no performing arts space in the city, especially for dance companies. She said the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in South DeKalb, while beautiful, was too far away and the new Decatur High School auditorium was usually unavailable and cost too much to rent for small arts groups.
Sue Schroder, director of CORE Performance Company, said there was no dedicated space for smaller dance companies, in Atlanta.
“Leaders and developers in New York City, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle have all found that if you have a dedicated art space, you build audience and activity to the surrounding retail developments.”
CORE, which is marking its 33rd year, currently moves around to different venues for their award-winning dance performances, but Schroder believes the Scott Boulevard church sanctuary could be an ideal place.
“There’s something about a church space that lends itself to dance,” Schroder commented, noting that New York City’s famed St. Mark’s Church has been reclaimed to become one of the most famed art spaces in the country.”
Developer Jeff Fuqua said preserving the church building was not economically feasible for the Decatur Crossing project. “It would cost millions of dollars to renovate the building and also take up a good deal of parking. The church sits on substantial portion of the property,” Fuqua said.
Fuqua is currently meeting with residents who live around the Scott Boulevard property to come up with a new site plan. The original included 40,000 square feet of retail and a four-story apartment complex, but Fuqua said the plan was being revised at the urging of the community. He’s also not against incorporating some type of arts venue in the Decatur Crossing project.
“There might be some opportunity to weave in an art component,” Fuqua said. “We’re very open to that.”