The future of the Holleman House in Fisher Park does not look promising, but some who rally in support of Greensboro’s historic places remain cautiously optimistic.
The 100-year-old house is located at the Greene Street entrance to the Fisher Park Historic District. The house was once part of an intact block-face of equally historic homes that have slowly been destroyed or relocated to make way for parking space and facility expansion for across-the-street neighbor First Presbyterian Church. The church purchased the Holleman House around 2006 as part of a campus expansion policy. In the meantime, church leadership has been mulling options for the future of the property.
Although the house contributes to the historic character and value of the neighborhood, First Presbyterian Church faces increasing demands from congregation members who rely on convenient parking to attend special events and Sunday services. Nearby congregations such as Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and New Millennium Christian Center sometimes compete for limited parking spaces on neighborhood streets, compounding the need for additional parking.
Although church leaders have no clear plan for the future use of the property, the congregation appears to be focused on demolishing the residence in order to comply with a timeline given as part of a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) approved by the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission in January. COA’s are required for alterations and demolitions within the historic district, but approval expires after one year if work has not yet begun. Some concern among congregation members centers on the ability of the church to destroy the house once the January 2010 deadline has expired.
Although the COA’s expiration date can be presented as motivation for demolition of the home, some historic district residents refer to the same document for grounds to save the structure. The COA was issued conditionally on grounds that the church work with the Historic Preservation Commission and the Fisher Park Neighborhood Association and other interested parties to explore alternatives to demolition. Representatives of those organizations say that the church has not worked with them to explore alternatives to demolition. Neighborhood residents also point out that a tree protection plan is required prior to demolition. As of Friday August 21, 2009 no such plan had been submitted.
In the meantime, initiatives from Preservation Greensboro hope to illustrate how the church could preserve and lease the building in order to create a source of rental income for the congregation’s budget. As downtown Greensboro grows increasingly urban, and unique properties such as the Holleman House are shifted into commercial use, opportunities arise for churches to lease their neighboring campus properties to spiritual-based third parties such as clinical psychologists and counselors, or service-based professionals such as legal, accounting, or design and marketing firms. Restoration of the property could be accomplished by partnering with private developers using state and federal historic preservation tax credits, and rental income could be shared with the church to be used to support its ministry.
To this end, Preservation Greensboro continues to develop a joint venture with Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that are positioned to provide much needed expertise and innovative solutions from national models to the Gate City. PGI and Partners plan a November workshop for the neighborhood, but if demolition plans progress quickly, the Holleman House may be an opportunity lost before its potential is ever fully realized.
The southern tier of Fisher Park continues to change rapidly due to development and institutional expansion. Yet is it the blend of residences, commercial uses, and institutions that make the neighborhood a wonderful place to live and work. Perhaps with help from a nationally-oriented advocate for older religious properties, Greensboro can learn a new model for growth that will enhance our historic congregations and institutions without sacrificing our long-established historic character.