Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Saving a City Landmark Afro-American Building Steered out of Trouble

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Saving a City Landmark Afro-American Building Steered out of Trouble

Article excerpt

After long serving as a business center in Jacksonville's black

community, the former headquarters of the Afro-American Life

Insurance Co. has disintegrated into a boarded-up eyesore.

But now, the African Methodist Episcopal Church is trying to

rebuild part of the Afro-American building's once proud

presence. With $3.5 million in borrowed money, the church has

started work on restoring the company headquarters into an

office and retail building that is scheduled to be finished in

February.

"It stands as a symbol in the community," said Bishop Frank

Cummings, head of the Jacksonville-based 11th Epishcopal

District of the AME Church, which includes about 450 churches in

Florida and the Bahamas.

The building is a symbol because of what Afro-American

represented during the city's segregation era. When black

residents couldn't buy insurance policies from white-owned

companies, they went to Afro-American. When black-owned

businesses needed loans, they turned to Afro-American.

But Cummings said the project involves more than just restoring

a symbol: It also will help give a boost to the northeast end of

downtown. In recent years, the Afro-American building has been a

blight to the thousands of motorists who drive each day on Union

Street to the Mathews Bridge.

The church began renovating the vacant building last year but

ran into financial problems -- and controversy -- that stopped

the project.

Construction crews quit working after they said the church

failed to pay them. A bank and a contractor filed lawsuits to

try to foreclose on the building because of outstanding debts.

And city officials let die a church request for $1 million to

bail out the project.

The project got started again in August, however, after the

church borrowed $3.5 million from Ohio-based Huntington National

Bank. Earlier, church leaders raised money from congregations to

help resolve hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts to a

former contractor and sub-contractors.

Huntington loaned the money under a program in which it works

with historically black churches to invest in lowand

moderate-income areas, said Jane Ashley, a bank spokeswoman. …

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