• The Big O

Mt. Calvary for sale $4.5 Million but that's not the whole story.

Mount Calvary is listed for sale at $4,455,000

Social media was abuzz yesterday as many in the general public found out that the iconic Mount Calvary Christian Center located on 23rd and Union was up for sale with a list price of $4,455,000 for the sanctuary as listed on Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate website. Many in the community assumed that the "gentrifiers" have struck again deep into the heart of our community and perhaps convinced the church to abandon their Central District roots for South King County with a big check in hand.

Wanting to get to the bottom of things myself, I spoke with Nicole Bascomb-Green, of Bascomb Real Estate, who is also a long time member of Mount Calvary, about the property sale to understand the position of the church on this important community issue.

First, Nicole said that she understands the collective pain the community feels when any of our institutions leave or are forced out of the neighborhood. She actually sites the impacts of gentrification as one of the factors behind Mount Calvary's decision.

Secondly, according to Bascomb-Green, the history of Mount Calvary is a story of progressive growth and change. From the church's humble beginnings back in 1987 when the tiny congregation used to hold services at the Union Gospel Mission in Holly Park and then as the congregation grew the next stop was the auditorium at Mercer Middle School until finally purchasing the property at their current location on 23rd & Union in 1992. Bascomb-Green says that for many in the flock, especially church elders, moving to a larger location to better serve the congregation has literally been part of Mount Calvary's story from the beginning and this iteration is just the latest chapter.

Third, Nicole said the church is in a very sound position and that there is no urgency to sell. So before we jump to conclusions thinking that this is a Baise Skanks type fire sale to save the church from mismanagement or gambling debts, that is not the case. Nicole said that the church is financially and ethically in an excellent place and in a very comfortable position and in no hurry to quickly sell the property to the wrong people but feels that now is definitely the time to start the process.

Q & A with Nicole Bascomb-Green

When did Mount Calvary go up for sale:

March 1, 2019 / asking price $4,455,000

Have there been any official offers made on the property:

Not as of yet, there have been inquires, but no offers.

Why did the church decide to put the building up for sale:

  1. Growth: The current location has no potential for growth, the Mount Calvary congregation is vibrant and growing and the current location literally has no space for the congregation to continue to grow. They are as well hampered by limited parking and overall access by congregation members.

  2. Gentrification: According to Bascomb-Green, although Mount Calvary's doors are open to people of all race and background, she points out that Mount Calvary since its founding over three decades ago through today is a predominantly Black church and that more and more of its members who have been displaced due to gentrification find it a struggle to remain a member at Mount Calvary and some members have actually been lost because they are seeking a church home that is closer to where they live. Moving the church will allow Mount Calvary to better serve its church members.

  3. God's Plan: I am sure that for many reading this, perhaps this should be item number one. According to Nicole, the church has continued to grow and prosper by aligning itself with the plan that God has for the church and it's congregation. It was this faith that led Mount Calvary from worshiping in the Union Gospel Mission in 1987 to 100% ownership of two properties on 23rd and Union today.

What is the congregation's position on this issue? We have seen in other cases in the Central District that the leadership might want to sell but the congregation does not or that the issue of selling has fractured the church.

According to Nicole, the first thing that Pastor Reggie Witherspoon Sr. did was take the issue to his flock and gather their opinion in a straw poll. According to Bascomb-Green, the congregation overwhelmingly agreed with the decision and from there the proposal moved to the church Board of Directors for formal consideration, they as well agreed in a formal capacity, and finally Pastor Witherspoon literally gave his blessing to the plan. Nicole claims the church is unified in the decision and that the process has been open and transparent.

Does Mount Calvary already have a new church to move into?

Nicole explains that unlike selling ones home in which the process happens quickly, selling commercial real estate takes a considerable amount of time and even after the sale it could be years before the new owner could actually do anything with the land as there is a long permitting and approval process. Bascomb-Green says that once the building sells, there will be plenty of lead time to identify a new church home. Some might say it is a true leap of faith, as we have seen some churches in our community sell and now find themselves renting church space from others.

Why doesn't Mount Calvary build low income housing on the property or some other structure that will serve the community similar to Bryant Manor which was developed by First AME Church.

Nicole was candid that Mount Calvary does not have the capacity to take on such an undertaking. She cites that the Liberty Bank Building, which is literally just a few feet away from Mount Calvary, came with a $40M price tag and that the housing development arena is just not one that Mount Calvary is prepared to be in.

Would you be opposed to selling the property to a non-profit like Capital Hill Housing, Africatown Community Land Trust, Bellwether, The City of Seattle, or any other organization of that type who would in turn develop affordable housing?

We are definitely not opposed to that at all, what we want the community to know is that we are not just selling to the first person who writes a check, we are not plotting a master plan with developers. Whoever we end up selling this property to is going to be someone that is well vetted and is aligned with our congregations vision of what type of business should be there. We definitely are not entertaining any offers that will leave the community worse off.


Mount Calvary Christian Center - Photo: The Seattle Times

So by the looks of things this sale is definitely going to happen and the only question now is to who and when.

Ultimately, if the church has outgrown it's current location, it has to find a new bigger spot, to fail to do so would stifle growth and in many in the congregation's eyes might stand in direct defiance of God's plan for the church. Most of us would be looking for a larger house or apartment if we planned to have more children or perhaps have a parent or relative move in with us. It only makes sense that Mount Calvary, forward focused, would do the same.

HOWEVER - the other side of the issue is a community who is hurt beyond belief deep into its soul by the ravages of systemic gentrification and displacement. A community that has seen Black wealth and prosperity in spiraling decline, a community that has been lied to by White politicians and Black preachers alike time and again, a community that has seen Black institutions such as the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place in a position of possibly closing their doors, and a community who is literally hoping and praying that Mount Calvary will not do like so many other property owners and churches in the Central District have done over the past two decades and sell to the highest bidder with no regard to the end result in the community or accountability to church members.

The congregation at Mount Calvary should find some solace in the fact that social media was buzzing about the news of the church going on the market, that means that for so many people, most of whom have never walked through the doors of your sanctuary; you, your church, and your future matter to them. You guys have to remember that thousands of community members rallied behind your church around the Uncle Ike issue. I remember bumping recording artist Draze's track, Irony on 23rd, which he protested Uncle Ike selling drugs literally just a few feet from your front door. That fight brought us all closer and many in the community feel like stakeholders in your church even if they never attended. The irony on 23rd now is that the drug dealer will stay and sadly you are leaving.

According to Bascomb-Green, Mount Calvary, led by faith has made their decision to sell and will continue God's plan for the church to prosper elsewhere but that Pastor Witherspoon is very willing to speak with the community regarding their concerns around the sale.

If the pastor is up for it I would love to have him on my podcast so he can discuss the impacts of gentrification on the Black church as well as share with the community his vision of what he would like to see replace Mount Calvary on 23rd and Union. - The Big O

Omari@AfricatownMedia.com / @omarisal

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