Emmanuel Gospel Center to Exit South End after 70 Years

The Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) has had a long presence in the South End, from a mobile church on wheels in the 1920s to its long-time building on San Juan Street and Shawmut Avenue, but that presence has come to an end as the organization has sold its property to IBA for an affordable housing project.

The EGC sold its property at 2 San Juan/Shawmut Ave for $4 million.

EGC Director Jeff Bass said that while they have been trying to up their presence in the South End since 2012, they recently realized that – with a citywide mission – they didn’t need to be in the South End any longer. He said after some initial inquiries, the were able to find a “win-win” with IBA and will move to Codman Square in Dorchester.

“We’ve been here a long time so in our mind it’s a pretty big deal to be heading out,” said Bass this week. “We have a citywide mission and not a South End only mission. We had gotten away from being locally active. We were very active during the formation of IBA and in the urban renewal days, but not as active in recent times…We had a decision to stay in the building or rent somewhere else. It really came down to what is best for us to do in seeking our mission. We felt it was time to go. However, the building never actually got onto the open market. We started talking to people to get advice and had three offers instantly.”

Given the mission of the Center and their ties to the original affordable housing fight in the neighborhood, Bass said they hoped to be able to get a good price and also a buyer that would be good for the community.

The first offer they had came from a developer and the second from a realtor. He said they reached out to their neighbor and historical-associate IBA about the situation, and within days the organization was able to provide a good price for the building – noting that it would be converted into affordable housing.

“This is really a lynchpin property for them geographically,” he said. “It’s right in their main area and they told us they wanted to do affordable housing. Instead of taking a large sum and having it developed into luxury units, this was going to be something that we were really comfortable with. We feel like it’s a win for the neighborhood by replacing an office building with affordable housing and we also didn’t have to compromise on the dollar value of the building.”

EGC is not a church, Bass said, but supports the mission of other churches citywide. They do, however, rent to the South End Community Church and to an Ethiopian Church. The Ethiopian church has found another home, but the South End Community Church is still looking for a place in the neighborhood.

The Center began when Mrs. Morgan established a Church on Wheels in the South End in the 1920s, and then bought a building in 1938 on Columbus Avenue. Later they moved to West Dedham Street, and then in the mid-1960s they became very involved in the fight against urban renewal. They were actually part of the group that eventually formed IBA to preserve affordable housing in the South End. In 1971, the community helped the EGC to get the building they currently occupy.

“This is a bit sad for us as we have several staff that have been with us since the early IBA days and live in the South End and walk to work,” he said. “There’s going to be a big change for them. We also have a lot of younger staff who don’t know about that. This is now going to be a new chapter for a new group of people to form the EGC’s future. We didn’t take this decision lightly.”

The EGC will continue in their building until mid-2019, and then they will move to rent space from the Second Church in Dorchester at Codman Square. They will also do extensive renovations there in conjunction with the historic Second Church.

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