With the sitting commission of the City of St Augustine one member short, during its regular meeting Monday night March 25, 2018, the audience heard a presentation by Madeline Wise for the Lincolnville Historical Preservation and Restoration Society lnc. offering a plan to repair and utilize the remaining historic ECHO House building for nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic purposes.
The City issued a demolition permit to St Paul’s AME Church for two of the buildings significant to African-American history in Lincolnville. Its pastor, Ronald Rawls, Jr of Gainesville, demolished the buildings which he uses for parking for his church.
The demolition permit for the remaining building was issued, but could not be used for ten-months, expiring April 15, 2018. The delay was ostensibly to allow Rawls the opportunity to make good on his original representation to construct a “School of Excellence” to benefit children remaining in the historically black neighborhood suffering from gentrification. Rawls agreed with the Historic Architectural Review Board on the condition that a legitimate non-profit organization would come forward with a plan to restore and utilize the remaining building, according to the terms of the deed, and that the plan did not require any funding from the church.
Rawls made no fruitful effort to bring forward any such organization or plan; however, with less than a month to spare, the not-for-profit Lincolnville Historical Preservation and Restoration Society has developed such a plan that includes the use of Lincolnville community re-development funds to complete the repairs necessary for occupancy.
Rawls spoke about the presentation offered by Mrs. Wise, and attempted to discredit it and the use of City Attorney Isabelle Lopez by commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline to advance such a plan. Rawls claims that the City’s right to exercise a reverter clause in the Quit Claim deed, retaking ownership of the property if its use by the current owner does not conform to the charitable conditions of the original Anderson deed to Rosalee Gordon-Mills, is not valid. He also said that he will fight any effort to revert the ownership of the ECHO House property to the City. He said that the City is using this opportunity with an ulterior motive as retaliation against him for his instigation of efforts to remove confederate monuments in town.
Neither Rawls nor St Paul’s AME Church paid the City anything for the property, in fact, Rawls removed historical terra cotta barrel tiles from the roof of the buildings, enriching himself or the church while reducing the value of the property. Rawls nor St Paul’s AME Church pays any ad valorem property taxes on the property or any tangible property tax. Demolition of two of the buildings further reduced the value of the property and Rawls has still not used the property for any deed-required “nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic” purposes.
Despite the saber-rattling, Mayor Shaver and commissioners Sikes-Kline and Horvath voted to have the city manager, John Regan, to officially direct 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 reversion of the deed to the City.
The action tonight effectively stays the demolition of the historic buildings that were gifted to the City from the estate of Dr. Andrew Anderson II, a physician, mayor, philanthropist, and benefactor of St. Augustine,