Echo House likely to revert to City ownership

When Carlotta Miles-Theodore quit the claim of Echo House, Inc., to the Lincolnville property left by her late mother Rosalee Gordon-Mills, she as president and Dorothy Israel as secretary, struggling to pay almost $3,500 in property taxes and even more in fines to the City for numerous code violations, walked away from their interest in the historic 1920’s complex that at one time provided indigent African-Americans with nursing care.

On the afternoon of March 15, 2010, the quit claim deed that had been executed and attested on February 16th, was recorded with the Clerk of Court for St Johns County as evidence of the transaction with St Paul AME Church. Echo House Inc. made no warranty of title to the property and, in fact, described a continuing covenant of the deed that the property “shall be used exclusively for nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic purposes: otherwise, title to said property shall revert to the City of St. Augustine, Florida”.

The property was a gift to the City from the estate of Dr. Andrew Anderson II, a physician, mayor, philanthropist, and benefactor of St. Augustine. Both the quit claim deeds to Echo House, Inc., one from the City on July 9, 1973, and from Echo House to St Paul AME on March 15, 2010, say, “This Indenture does not affect or diminish the rights of the City of St. Augustine to the reversion interest described above.”

St Paul AME Church does not hold a warranty deed to the property, nor are they in compliance with the restrictive covenant. Echo House, Inc., filed its final Annual Report with the State of Florida on September 17, 2015. Then, on September 23, 2016 the Division of Corporations filed an Administrative Dissolution of Echo House Inc.

For nearly seven-years prior to the transaction, since August 29, 2003, Gainesville resident and church pastor, Ronald Rawls, Jr., has held a Florida real estate sales associate license SL3058258 — so it is safe to assume he was trained and understands the differences in the types of property deeds in Florida. His license is currently “inactive” according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but it does not expire until March 31 of next year.

During the immediate past eight-year period, the church, led by Rawls, set about showing off the well known three-building complex and land under the pretext that it was being developed by the church as what Rawls called the “St Paul’s School of Excellence”.

The story was that the School of Excellence would address the educational and extracurricular needs of minority children in the Lincolnville community. Rawls peddled the idea around town. St Augustine mayor Nancy Shaver and Historic City News editor Michael Gold were among numerous financial donors to the school — which was never built.

Historic City News has been tracking the developments (and lack thereof) to the dilapidated remains of one-of-three of the original buildings still standing on the property located at 100 Martin Luther King Avenue in St Augustine. The other two buildings were demolished in 2014.

A demolition request for the remaining building was approved by the Historic Architectural Review Board with the stipulation that the church made a good faith effort to find a suitable non-profit group, before April 15, 2018, that could use the property as originally contemplated. The structure was Identified as one of the “top ten” most threatened places in St Augustine on May 24, 2017 by the citizens’ action group, “Citizens for the Preservation of St. Augustine, Inc.” Notwithstanding identification of such a group to operate the facility with no cost to the church, Rawls could apply to the City for a demolition permit.

However, during its last regular meeting Monday night March 25, 2018, the audience, city staff and St Augustine City Commission heard a presentation offering a plan to repair and utilize the remaining historic ECHO House building for nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic purposes using available funds from the Lincolnville Community Redevelopment Agency.

Mayor Shaver and commissioners Sikes-Kline and Horvath voted to have the city manager, John Regan, officially instruct St Paul’s AME Church’s Board of Directors to negotiate with the Lincolnville Historical Preservation and Restoration Society lnc. to come up with an acceptable plan for the public use of the property, in accordance with the deed, or risk return of the property to the City.

Commissioner Todd Neville was the only dissenting vote. Commissioner Leanna Freeman was reportedly out-of-town on vacation and not present.

The St Paul AME Church board met yesterday April 3, 2018. No word yet on a definitive course of action. The final matter of business on the April 9th agenda is an item by City Manager (13.A.) “progress report on the ECHO House negotiations”, so Historic City News will have more to report at that time.

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