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On a Prayer

Memphis Heritage pushes to preserve Midtown church.

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The Union Avenue Methodist Church's dwindling congregation has relocated, but the future of the historic building remains in its hands.

Plans to demolish the church, which is located at the corner of Union and Cooper, are in the final stages. Last week, CVS pharmacy filed a development proposal for the property, currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, hopes the church will consider other possibilities. West said that several groups interested in maintaining the building have contacted both the church and Memphis Heritage, but due to miscommunication, the contract with CVS was signed before other options were fully considered.

"We don't deny that it would cost money to restore," West said at a community meeting last week, "but as long as there are people in the community willing to do that, it's worth a discussion."

Besides the uproar over tearing down a historic building, West pointed out the church's design merit.

"There are significant architects involved," she said — namely John Gaisford, who designed the Memphis courthouse and the Falls Building downtown, and Pink Palace architect Hubert T. McGee. "Memories shouldn't be the only thing that saves a structure."

Though keeping the building intact is Memphis Heritage's first priority, several community members voiced their hopes for, at minimum, good urban design in the proposed CVS project. Kelly Reaves, who attended the meeting on behalf of CVS, presented the pharmacy's plans and pointed out the compromises they've made.

In the proposal, the CVS building has been pulled to meet the street, in accordance with the restrictions a proposed Midtown zoning overlay will implement to ensure Midtown's urban fabric.

"We realize that the Midtown overlay has not been approved," Reaves said, "but we have been very conscious to meet a lot of those needs."

The CVS plans go before the Land Use Control Board on July 8th for approval.

West hopes that before that date Memphis Heritage can facilitate an assessment of the building's condition — and at the very least, a conversation between the church and potential developers interested in adaptive reuse.

"You have to look at it financially as well as emotionally," West said, "and I do think that this building is worth saving."

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