Thursday, April 06, 2000

Allen Temple to build impressive new church at Swifton

Mall evolves as community focus

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On a parking lot between Reading Road, Seymour Avenue and Langdon Farm Road, two pieces of Cincinnati history will come together.

The Rev. Donald Jordan plans to move his congregation out of this building and into a new structure.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The oldest black church in Cincinnati will move to the oldest open court shopping mall in the city.

        Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1824, will build a $9 million structure in Swifton Commons, built in 1956 as the Swifton Shopping Center.

        “Our plans are to start construction June 1,” said the Rev. Donald Jordan, pastor of Allen Temple.

        The Rev. Mr. Jordan led the Allen Temple Foundation to purchased the 34-acre mall a year ago for $1.2 million. He said plans are to redevelop the mall, keeping the existing 30 businesses and attracting others.

        “With Allen Temple as the anchor tenant, we think we can revitalize the entire mall,” the Rev. Mr. Jordan said.

        He said the $9 million building will be patterned after Rev. Robert Shuler's Crystal Cathedral in Ingleside, Calif. It will be mostly glass and granite with the front facing Reading Road, in the southwestern corner of the mall.

        A sanctuary will seat 1,000 and will be surrounded by a fellowship hall, family life center, gymnasium, community kitchen, classrooms, fitness room, recreation area and offices.

        He said a conference center will be built next to the church with three meeting rooms, an underground amphitheater and banquet room.

        “This is a historic landmark,” said David Nordyke, executive director of the Harmony Chartered School in the Commons. “With the church coming in this could mean creating an informational mall of the 21st century.”

        The mall opened with 66 merchants, but at one time its tenants dropped to only 10.

        The Rev. Mr. Jordan said there are 30 tenants in the mall now and he hopes to keep them.

        The mall also has been a victim of a perception that it was not safe. Students from nearby Woodward High School often gather in the mall.

        “I agree that maybe Woodward created the perception that it was not safe, but I think our school has proven that it is,” said Mr. Nordyke of the Harmony school. “We have brought life to the mall and each day, there are 400 students moving through here and it is safe.”

        Mr. Nordyke sees Allen Temple as another stable force.

        A $40 million renovation plan has created interest, both commercially and institutionally.

        The Kroger Co. is considering a store in the mall. . It now operates a store across the street in the Hillcrest Shopping Center.

        The Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency also is discussing relocating rom Woodburn Avenue in Walnut Hills to the Commons.

        “It is at the negotiating stage now, but we are excited about locating our Head Start program and administrative offices in the old Elder Beerman building there,” said Gwen Robinson, president and chief executive officer of CHCCAA. “I think being in that area with a church will help the people we serve.”

        CHCCAA is a non-profit organization that contracts with other agencies to provide social services.

        Fred Williams, 69, who was hauling lumber when the mall was built 44 years ago thinks he might have been one of the first customers. “I loved it. I remember when it was first built,” said Mr. Williams, of Bond Hill. “I would love to see the entire mall renovated and back alive again. We need this in our community.”

        The Rev. Lorenzo Wright, 72, of Roselawn, said he would love to see the Swifton Shopping Center restored. “We really need it,” said the pastor of the First New High Point Baptist Church in Mount Auburn. “We don't have the community spirit we used to have. We lose a lot when we lose a shopping mall, a business or a church.”

        As Cincinnati police Officer Gary Christie walks among the students, he said the ambiance is different now.

        “We are here to help destroy the myth,” he said. “We haven't had any problems. I think it will be a very positive influence with the church moving on the grounds.”

        The Rev. Mr. Jordan said the congregation had discussed several plans for a new church, including tearing down the present structure at 7181 Reading Road, Roselawn.

        He said they will sell the old church building and several properties. If the church is sold before the new one is built, he said the 800 members will hold worship services in one of the vacant buildings in Swifton Commons.

        “This will be the largest private development in the country by a black church group in the inner city,” the Rev. Mr. Jordan said. “It is a bold venture, but it can be done. I feel that God has given me the vision and the intelligence to do this. I owe it to my people to do it. It is a great expectation, but you cannot survive unless you have great expectations.”

        The Rev. Mr. Jordan became pastor of Quinn Chapel AME Church in Glendale in 1979. He led the church in buying land in Forest Park for $90,000, where it built a $400,000 church building. The church has purchased additional land nearby for $150,000.

        He established Jordan Funeral Home in Middletown in 1953. Through mergers with other funeral homes, the Rev. Mr. Jordan and Walter Hall have built the largest black funeral businesses in Cincinnati, the Thompson, Hall-Jordan Funeral Homes.

        The Rev. Mr. Jordan said he hopes to get a consortium of banks to participate in the mall redevelopment.

        Henry Wilson & Associates of Bond Hill is the architect.


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