Preserving a community

Church's outreach center gets preview

August 07, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,SUN REPORTER

Not far from where a huge development of big-box retail stores and gleaming apartment, condo and office towers have emerged on the edge of Annapolis sits a modest church on a hill.

The Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1870 in Parole, has for decades provided support services to the community out of its basement. Since 2000, the Rev. Johnny R. Calhoun has lobbied state, county and city leaders for help in funding an addition to the 750-member church, hoping to expand the community outreach that includes after-school care and programs for the elderly.

And now the project has come to fruition. The developer of the $400 million Annapolis Towne Centre office, retail and residential project - which initially raised fears of gentrification of the historically black neighborhood - agreed to fund $2.2 million of the project.

Community leaders will preview the project tonight at a reception at the Mount Olive Community Life Center.

The $3 million center - part business incubator, after-school program, computer laboratory and event space - is designed to preserve the area amid an influx of high-end development.

"Parole is the last historic neighborhood of African-American homeowners in the city," Calhoun said. "We saw it necessary to establish a center that would promote the continued vitality and sustainability of this community."

The first phase of Annapolis Town Centre at Parole, which sits on about 33 acres of land on Route 2, is set to open in the fall. The department store Target, Whole Foods grocery store and a Robert Andrew Day Spa are among the anchor tenants.

Calhoun led the fundraising efforts and is overseeing the construction of the community center, which is set to open to the public next month. In 2000, he established the Mount Olive Community Development Corp., which more easily enabled the church to obtain funding. The state has provided $400,000 for the center; the county gave $75,000; and the city gave $50,000.

The church acquired $350,000 worth of land abutting the church property on which the center was built. In addition to the funding from Greenberg Gibbons Commercial Corp., which is developing Annapolis Towne Centre, its project manager also oversaw the architecture, construction and engineering of the 10,000-square-foot life center, said Brian Gibbons, CEO of the development corporation.

"When we develop in a community, we like to get actively involved in the community around it," Gibbons said. "When we did the initial groundbreaking, I met Reverend Calhoun. ... He explained how they were working for years trying to get this community center. They just had some grants but they were nowhere near where they needed to be to make this dream a reality. I spoke to the reverend and was quite impressed and thought this was a great opportunity to get involved and help this community."

House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, whom Calhoun called a champion of the project, and Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer are among the dignitaries expected to attend today's reception at the venue, which will offer educational, job training and community building services to the greater Parole area.

Among the amenities is event space for up to 200 people, including a commercial kitchen, classroom and meeting space and office space for budding entrepreneurs.

"Where there are established neighborhoods, you want to make sure this is about the life of the neighborhood and not getting swallowed up in this huge development," Moyer said. "It will be a destination center. All the things the community has been doing can really be expanded."

Calhoun, who said the church provides support services to 150 to 200 people, expects that number to increase 10-fold, thanks to the new center.

"This was a God-established ... public-private initiative that we pray will motivate like-minded activity across the state and the nation. Finally, we give God all the credit and all the glory for it."

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