SCAD Plans Sale Of Midtown Theater Building To Megachurch Amid Opposition

A petition against the church's plan cites traffic concerns as well as the senior pastor's ties to former President Donald Trump
SCAD Theater
Photo: Google Maps | A shot of the SCAD theater building at 173 14th St. NE.
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The Savannah College of Art and Design has plans to sell its theater building at 173 14th St. NE to megachurch Free Chapel Worship Center amid opposition from some neighborhood residents.

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Filed by the church in the spring, a special use application requests permission for church use at the property, which has been used for assemblies by SCAD in the last few years. The application lists an expected occupancy of 350 congregants of all ages on Sunday mornings, with “other services” to be held on various nights throughout the rest of the week.

The plan has elicited opposition from some neighborhood residents who argue that the new use will create too much traffic and is incompatible with the neighborhood. An online petition started earlier this month also points to a lack of parking and Free Chapel Worship Center Senior Pastor Jentezen Franklin’s legal troubles and ties to former President Donald Trump. It has garnered more than 500 signatures.

“Once you do get this information out to our community and residents, they are really opposed to it,” neighborhood resident Rebecca Godleski, who started the petition, told What Now Atlanta. “We’re happy to talk with SCAD or whoever it may be to discuss potential other opportunities, but this just doesn’t seem like the right fit for this corner and the heart of Midtown.”

SCAD acquired the theater building, which has 560 seats, in 2013 from the Woodruff Arts Center for $1.85 million when it was used as the 14th Street Playhouse. The property sits at the southeastern corner of the intersection of Juniper and 14th Streets.

Neither Free Chapel Worship Center nor SCAD responded to requests for comment.

Free Chapel Worship Center has several locations, including in Gainesville, as well as South Carolina and California. In Midtown, it operated out of the Center Stage Theater from 2018 to 2020 and at the Rich Auditorium at the Woodruff Arts Center since last year.

For 173 14th St. NE, plans call for parking needs to be accommodated by nearby publicly accessible parking garages. “For the church use, it is anticipated that the parking will be most in demand in the evenings and on Sundays when parking is not otherwise used,” the church’s special use application reads.

Despite some neighborhood opposition, Free Chapel’s plans for the site have also received neighborhood support.

Morris, Manning & Martin attorney Carl Westmoreland, who is representing Free Chapel in the special use application process, said the church’s plans had gone through the approvals process without many complaints until this month. It was recommended by both the Midtown Neighbors’ Association and Neighborhood Planning Unit – E that the city not oppose the special use application.

“I do see the petition but I don’t think issues that are raised are what the city has got to base their decision on,” Westmoreland said. “This would generate less traffic than just about anything else you could have there.”

When reached for comment, Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, too, shared a statement that there is no legal justification for rejecting the special use permit application.

“While I may share your political view of the proposal, that is not, by law, reason to reject the special use permit,” he said in a statement sent to concerned Midtown residents. “Indeed, diversity and inclusion implies that all are welcome and that applies to a church as well. Indeed, there are likely Midtown residents who attend this church, already being held a block or so away at the Woodruff Arts Center.”

The special use application is scheduled to get a vote from the Atlanta City Council on August 2.

Dean Boerner

Dean Boerner

Dean Boerner is a California-based writer previously with Bisnow and the San Francisco Business Times. He received his bachelor's degree in economics and business from Saint Mary's College of California, where he also served as the editor-in-chief of The Collegian, the school's campus newspaper. Before that, he spent two years as the publication's sports editor, and he remains a committed fan, for better or worse, of his Sacramento Kings, San Francisco Giants, and Saint Mary's Gaels.
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leedart
leedart
10 days ago

WTF SCAD?!? If this is how they plan to treat Midtown then it is not a friend to the neighborhood, city, or I would now look deeply into the actual benefit to it’s students as a whole. Does anybody remember The Art Institute of Atlanta?!? Anything trump is connected with is pure corruption, and hateful. This church is not welcome!!!!!

Wayne
Wayne
10 days ago
Reply to  leedart

Agreed! I meant Trumpian, not Grumpier, lol. These people are against Arts funding. They are against LGBTQ rights and adoption. Heck, they are against any vaccines.
Parking, noise, hate-fullness, bad publicity, etc. We should pressure North American Properties / Colony Square to lobby against this.

Taylor
Taylor
10 days ago

My first question is how the hell does a church have the money for this piece of land!? This is a silly move on all fronts. This is an upcoming area of midtown especially with the renovation of colony square and a church does not fit that molding..

Kevin!
Kevin!
10 days ago
Reply to  Taylor

This is one of those fake megachurches

Grant Knox
Grant Knox
10 days ago

If Free Chapel had to hire Carl Westmoreland, they likely have a ton of money and are up to something shady. You don’t hire one of the best and most expensive lawyers in Atlanta for a simple SAP application. Westmoreland is also retained by QTS in their efforts to acquire 50+ residential lots in West Midtown to build a data center and potentially block the Beltline.

K3nn3th
K3nn3th
10 days ago

The “tolerant” left strikes again. If someone wanted to open a strip club there, these same people would probably be silent. Don’t continue these culture wars. I’m an atheist, but I don’t care if a church opens. The seats are the same whether there’s a religious meeting or a play. Stop the nonsense.

Aaron
Aaron
10 days ago

No. Just no. This is the opposite of what Midtown needs – especially on a corner that could use a lively venue to compliment Colony Square / Politan Row across the street.

Ben
Ben
10 days ago

Here is the link to the petition for anyone interested in signing it:
https://www.change.org/p/mayor-keisha-lance-bottoms-oppose-megachurch-purchase-of-scad-theater

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