Church settling into new location

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Greater Love Outreach Church, condemned by the city last year as it began acquiring property for its urban redevelopment project, The Fairgrounds, is now holding services in its new home.

The congregation will gather for its second worship service in its newly renovated 4,000-square-foot church at 143 S. Saratoga St. at 11 a.m. today.


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For the past six years, Greater Love has been located at 307 E. Washington St., in a 100-year-old building remembered by generations of Suffolk residents as a liquor store. The church renovated the first floor, creating space for worship services and to carry out its many community outreach programs.

Eventually, the city will raze the building, located near where East Washington intersects with Hall Avenue, to build a traffic loop.

Today, Greater Love’s congregation is satisfied with its new location, said the Rev. Willie Royster, the church’s pastor. But that wasn’t the case last year, when the church first learned that the City Council had approved a &uot;quick-take condemnation&uot; for its property.

&uot;We weren’t happy at first,&uot; said Royster, stressing that he has always supported the city’s plans to clean up the East Washington Street community. &uot;That needs to be done.

&uot;But we were shocked; we had never experienced a condemnation. All we knew was that we were losing our home and that we didn’t know where we were going to end up. We thank God for helping us work that out.

&uot;…We’re excited about our move,&uot; he said. &uot;We like where we are located …we are already meeting new people to talk to about the Lord.&uot;

The building – which, ironically, Royster opted not to buy six years ago – has been given a complete overhaul, inside and out. Church members have invested countless hours in the project, working late into the night and on weekends so the building would be ready to move into this month.

Workers have lowered ceilings, put up sheetrock, rewired the building, hung chandeliers, tiled and carpeted floors, and painted the building, inside and out.

&uot;A lot of us have worked hard,&uot; said church member Dwayne Lewis. &uot;I know working on the building makes it mean more to me personally.&uot;

Greater Love has about 20 percent less space in its new building. Nonetheless, Royster said, the benefits of the new building far outweigh any downsides.

The new church has plenty of classroom space, something that was sorely lacking in its original building.

&uot;The auditorium in the other building was larger,&uot; Royster said. &uot;On the other hand, this building has a lot more classroom space that we can use to for our computer training and GED classes.

&uot;We like having the closed-in space rather than using partitions.&uot;

It’s also closer to the downtown community, a feature that church leaders hope will pull more people into the folds of their ministry.

&uot;We are hoping to draw in new members from the Saratoga neighborhood and other downtown communities,&uot; Royster said. &uot;People here in the community seem to be embracing us.

&uot;And losing that stigma (of having been located in a former liquor store) is going to help us a lot.&uot;

Although the church is satisfied with its new home and the city has ownership of the property needed to build a new traffic circle, the two parties may still end up in court, said Norfolk attorney Joe Waldo, who is representing Greater Love.

Through the &uot;quick-take&uot; arrangement, the city, working through the courts, paid the church $180,000 for the property, said Waldo.

&uot;With respect to the issue on just compensation, the church still feels strongly at this point that it hasn’t been treated fairly,&uot; he said. That figure, which is based on old appraisal, does not account for everything the church lost because of the condemnation, Waldo said. For example, the church had just had an architectural plan for an upward expansion completed a few weeks before learning of the condemnation, he said.

&uot;But if we don’t resolve the issue of compensation, we don’t have much choice but to go to court,&uot; he said. &uot;We are hopeful we can resolve this without going to court.

&uot;But we are definitely are not there yet.&uot;

Dennis Craff, spokesman for the city, declined to comment due to the possibility of pending litigation.