June 16, 2014
The Orlando Sentinel quoted me in History also Parts City, Church in Stadium Dispute (sign in required). It reads in part,
It’s been said that you can’t fight City Hall. Still, tiny Faith Deliverance Temple is gonna try. The city of Orlando covets its property — now the final piece of the two square blocks upon which will bloom a $110 million soccer savanna for the Orlando City Lions to roam. Church officials balked. So city officials filed suit to seize the land. Goliath shoved. Now, David’s grabbed a sling.
The church has enlisted a Jacksonville property rights law firm to fight for its right to stay put. Any way you slice it, the church’s hopes rest with a judge who, in two previous eminent domain cases involving the soccer stadium, deemed that it fits the definition of a public use.
City Hall considers the stadium manna from Major League Soccer: It’ll nourish the greater community with economic development, jobs and tourism. Pastor Kinsey Shack, meanwhile, simply says her largely black flock “does not want and has not wanted to sell its property.”
It would be easy to reduce the dispute to simplistic terms: Seeing the writing on the wall, the church has fallen prey to the sin of avarice. Orlando offered $1.5 million for property worth less than half that, and most recently upped the ante to $4 million. Church leaders countered with $35 million (but later lowered it to $15 million).
To church officials, it’s simply a matter of fairness. In 2007, Orlando plunked $35 million in cash and other sweeteners into First United Methodist Church’s collection plate. It needed the land for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and paid a small fortune to the largely white downtown church. In any case, church officials aren’t sweating the optics. Maybe that’s because money isn’t necessarily the root of its revolt.
An alternative motive seems rooted in history, personal and collective. In the late ’70s, Robert Lee Williams moved his wife Catherine, their four kids, and the church he’d incorporated in 1969 to West Church Street in Orlando’s mostly black Parramore neighborhood.
The teeny flock grew as he saved and collected souls through revivals. In the early ’80s, they moved to a West Church Street warehouse. With member donations, Williams bought the property, and largely through the sweat of local day laborers, they moved into a new church home in 1996. Williams died in 1997, but his wife carried on, before passing the mantle to Shack six years ago. For the Williams family, divesting the property divorces them from their community, their history.
Yet, through government strong-arming that very thing is — for blacks in particular — a sordid history as old as America. That’s according to Mindy Fullilove, a Columbia University clinical psychiatry professor in a recent report on the devastation eminent domain wreaks on black communities. “Eminent domain has become what the founding fathers sought to prevent: a tool that takes from the poor and the politically weak to give to the rich and politically powerful.”
David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor, noted in an email that since early last century “local governments have a long history of using eminent domain in black communities, from so-called ‘slum clearance’ to ‘urban renewal’ to ‘blight removal.'”| Permalink