Fayette County

Central Christian considers selling historic building

Central Christian Church has notified Central Christian Child Care Center that the church has a contract to sell the historic building where the center is located at 266 East Short Street.

The child-care center, in operation for almost 21 years, is working on plans to relocate.

"The church has told us we will know within 90 days where the day care is going to go," said Liz Wolford, director of the child-care center. A meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Central Christian Church to answer questions from parents.

Meanwhile, preservationists expressed apprehension Monday about the future of the historically significant building, hoping that the new owner would not tear it down.

The building housed the First African Baptist Church, founded in 1790, the third oldest black Baptist congregation in the United States and the oldest in Kentucky.

The property was sold to the First African Baptist Church in 1833 under the leadership of a freed slave, the Rev. London Ferrill. The present Italianate-style building was constructed in 1856.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But that designation does nothing to protect a structure from demolition.

Central Christian, at 205 East Short Street, bought the First African Baptist Church building across the street in 1986 and has used it for various church programs. Central Christian Child Care Center operates independently from Central Christian Church.

Downtown businessman Joe Rosenberg confirmed Monday that he had made the offer to buy the First African Baptist Church building. Rosenberg was a partner with Dudley Webb in the CentrePointe project that cleared a downtown block of 14 buildings two years ago.

Rosenberg's plans for the old church building are "not to tear it down, but to keep it as an intact building."

He wants it to house a non-profit organization, he said. Rosenberg did not disclose what he had offered to pay for the building.

Hayward Wilkirson, a board member of Preserve Lexington, which grew out of efforts to save the CentrePointe block, said Rosenberg "has a good and a bad track record" when it comes to saving buildings.

"His track record with CentrePointe would make one a little bit nervous," Wilkirson said. "On the other hand, my understanding is, he has always been committed to social-justice issues, and particularly issues of social equality."

Wilkirson called the First African Baptist Church building "very significant" historically. "We don't have a lot of tangible, built artifacts of African-American history in Lexington," he said. "When you touch that building, you are touching African-American history."

Because the community is hearing about the proposed sale "pretty early, there is a lot of opportunity to be pro-active" and make the prospective buyer aware of the building's historical significance, Wilkirson said.

In the Downtown Lexington Building Inventory, completed by the city in 2009, the First African Baptist Church building is listed as architecturally and historically significant, "contributing to the character of downtown."

Central Christian senior minister Michael Moody sent a letter to the 900-member congregation on Friday, saying that several weeks ago, Central's trustees received an offer to buy the building.

After talking with the child-care center's board, Central Christian's trustees "signed a sales contract contingent upon approval of the congregation," Moody said.

The congregation has three months to decide whether to sell.

Janet Ehrmantraut, Central's minister of pastoral care, said the church will have an informational meeting for members sometime in the next several weeks.

If the sale is approved, the child-care center will not have to move until the end of the summer of 2011.

Wolford was asked whether she thought the future of the child-care center was in jeopardy because it might have to find new quarters.

"I can't say yes or no on that," she said. "I can't really comment. I don't know the future. We have options we are looking into."

Ehrmantraut said Central Christian Church has a "long-time" commitment to child care.

"That child-care center was started out of a sense of ministry to the community," she said. The possible sale of the building "has not been done without conversation with the Child Care Board."

Licensed to care for 99 children, the center stays "pretty much full all the time," Wolford said.

The desire of the Child Care Board is to stay downtown, Wolford said. "Yes, absolutely. I don't see us going off (church) campus."

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