Rawls AME Church rejects City offer for Echo House

Deemed one of the “top ten” most threatened places in St Augustine last year by the citizens’ action group, “Citizens for the Preservation of St. Augustine, Inc.”, Ronald Rawls Jr has come to the City looking for a permit to demolish the final building of the historic 1920’s complex that at one time provided indigent African-Americans with nursing care.

At the March 26th meeting, the St Augustine City Commission directed the city manager John Regan to work with St. Paul AME Board of Directors to seek a solution that preserves the remaining elements of Echo House; two-thirds of which have already been demolished by Rawls and his church to make a parking lot.

“On March 29, 2018, I had a two-hour discussion with Ken McClain, Sr., Trustee Pro Tem and James Allen to negotiate a solution,” Regan wrote in his cover letter to the agenda item for April 9th.  Regan provided a “Memorandum of Understanding” addressed to McClain reflecting their discussion.

The memorandum was presented to the St Paul AME Church Board of Directors at their 6:00 p.m. meeting on April 3, 2018.  According to published accounts, Regan has been informed that the AME Church Board has rejected the offer.

The property located at 100 Martin Luther King Avenue in St Augustine had been left to the City as a bequest from former mayor and city benefactor Dr. Andrew Anderson II.  The gift stipulated that the property be used exclusively for “nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic purposes”.

The City provided Echo House, Inc. with a “Quit Claim” deed when they took the property into their care on July 9, 1973; providing 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”.  No “Warranty Deed” was given, nor was title warrantied by the City because of the potential reverter interest.

The AME church acquired possession of the property on February 16, 2010, when the former Echo House, Inc., found themselves unable to pay the cost to rehabilitate and continue to maintain the property, and based on representations that the church intended to use the buildings for educational purposes.

In one of its final acts, before being dissolved by the state for failure to file annual reports, Echo House, Inc., granted St Paul AME Church another “Quit Claim” deed; again, without warranty of title and again 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”.

 

St Paul AME Church under Rawls direction has not been a particularly good steward of the property.  In 2014, two of the three buildings, a former administration building and a multi-purpose community center, were demolished.  In 2012, Ormond Beach developer George Arnold reportedly paid the church $2,000 for “20 to 30 pallets of vintage red terra cotta tiles, removed from the roof of Echo House”.  The manufacturer of the tiles told a member of the Citizens for the Preservation of St Augustine that the value of the missing, used tiles is about $4 each; placing the value of the tile removed at roughly $25,000.

If you are planning to attend tonight’s public meeting, go the Alcazar Room on the ground floor courtyard of City Hall at 75 King Street in St Augustine. The meeting will start at 5:00 p.m., and is available for live viewing on GTV Channel 3 and on-line at CityStAugTV.com

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