The building that was once JCPenney, Woolworth’s and Cole’s Drug Store was the first to go earlier this month. The aging apartment complex was next. A small drive-in bank building on North Ocoee Street is still standing, but it too will eventually come down.
The university will renovate the former First Baptist sanctuary building and convert it into a music performance hall. It will build a communications building and add green space on the demolition site near Central Avenue between Church and Ocoee streets. The two projects should be completed by the 2014 fall semester.
Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn said as he watched the demolition that he knew the apartments well. The building, he said, has been a part of his childhood and landscape his entire life since 1941.
“I’m really excited about what’s going to happen on this piece of property, because it’s going to be a wonderful place where the Lee campus connects to downtown Cleveland,” he said. “I remember this building from my teenage years because I used to work at JCPenney’s in the men’s and boy’s clothing department. I’d come out that side door and come right past this building on my way home.”
MainStreet Cleveland Executive Director Sharon Marr described Lee University as a tremendous asset, especially to downtown. She is hopeful the new development will spur retail and further expansion of loft living in the business district.
“We’re thrilled with the changing landscape and look forward to the new building and the green space,” she said. “As the university moves closer to downtown, it’s an opportunity for students to patronize downtown shops and restaurants.”
Key to the new development was a major gift of property and cash from Allan and Janie Jones. The amount of the gift was not revealed, but it was large enough for the First Baptist sanctuary to be renamed “Pangle Hall” in honor of Janie Jones, Allan’s wife.
The exterior of the old First Baptist Church on Church Street and Central Avenue will remain essentially unchanged. The main exception is removal of the steeple and it being replaced with a cupola, which will more faithfully reflect an academic style.
Two other parts of the former First Baptist building function as a campus child care center and as additional classroom space for one of the university’s departments.
Lee University purchased the First Baptist Church in June 2010 for $5 million after the congregation moved to its new site on Stuart Road.
Conn credited local businessman Forrest Preston with the idea of linking the campus with downtown. He encouraged Conn not to extend the campus north of 20th Street, but to move South.
“I didn’t have the vision, but he challenged me,” Conn said. “He is one of Cleveland’s great visionaries. He challenged me with the dream that the Lee campus should eventually connect to downtown.”
The two other parts of the former First Baptist building function as a campus child care center and as additional classroom space for one of the university’s departments.
Lee University announced the purchase of the old First Baptist Church in June 2010 for $5 million after the congregation moved to its new site on Stuart Road.
The transaction included the 95,000-square-foot sanctuary and Christian education building, the 35,000-square-foot commercial building on Ocoee Street that formerly housed Woolworth’s and J.C. Penney, and 13 random parcels of property between Lee University and First Baptist Church.