Scott Boulevard Baptist Church is running out of options. The 58-year-old church located at the corner of North Decatur Road and Scott Boulevard has an aging congregation. Most remaining churchgoers are over 80. Membership has shrunk from a peak of 500 worshippers in the 1960s to about 50 people today. The church no longer has the funds to stay open for Sunday services.
In attempts to keep its doors open, the congregation tried to rent space to nonprofit organizations, merge with more than a dozen other churches, and sell the building to a nursing home operator. Every effort was a bust.
That's when Jeff Fuqua stepped in. In September 2012, his real estate development firm, Fuqua Development, offered to buy the church and 10 nearby homes. If he closes the deal, Fuqua plans to level the church and residences and construct a 7-acre mixed-use shopping center.
"It was not an easy decision," said Pastor Greg Smith at a July meeting with worshippers and nearby residents. "It was a decision we felt like we had to make. We choose to take care of our people rather than take care of our landlord."
Fuqua, who has built around 40 major retail, residential, and mixed-use developments in metro Atlanta over the last 25 years, calls the DeKalb project one of his company's finest proposals. According to his plans, the site could include a 200-unit apartment complex and an organic food store. It could also help revitalize the busy and somewhat desolate crossroads. The area surrounding the six-way intersection in unincorporated DeKalb County once brimmed with auto dealerships, retail complexes, and clusters of small ethnic shops and restaurants. But over the last two decades, it's suffered from an investment drought as businesses have either moved away or closed up shop. Sprawling parking lots and decaying storefronts now dominate the landscape.
Fuqua sees potential in the tired corner. He envisions retail space lining the streets. Parking tucked away out of sight. A "public gathering space" for pedestrians and shoppers at the corner of the bustling intersection that sees more than 70,000 motorists a day. He'll call it "Decatur Crossing."
Never mind that it's not actually in the City of Decatur.
Some local residents have a different vision. They'd like to preserve the church and surrounding neighborhoods rather than watch them bulldozed for major retailers and increased traffic congestion. While the intersection lies one-and-a-half miles north of downtown Decatur, most residents identify with and appreciate the city's walkable design, community-owned establishments, and quaint atmosphere. They want to extend the Decatur experience beyond the city's historic square.
During the July meeting, more than 100 citizens filled the church to express their concerns. One of Fuqua's representatives fielded questions and responded to acrimonious remarks over how the proposed site is co-opting Decatur's name and aesthetic without living up to the city's rigorous planning standards. Tensions boiled inside the church as some community members criticized the company for being "disingenuous" and not entirely transparent.
Few attendees noticed the blond-haired, baby-faced Fuqua, who watched the proceedings from a front-row pew on the room's edge. He quietly observed the discussion heat up over the course of an hour and occasionally nodded to his rep as a show of support.
The 52-year-old veteran developer is usually the person presenting to communities. Throughout his career, Fuqua has debriefed citizens, assuaged fears, and listened to neighborhood wishes more times than he can count. He's also caught his share of flak. He believes most people desire his developments, including this DeKalb one, and calls most vocal opponents "professional agitators," saying they don't represent the greater community's interests.
"We offered everything you can do in the world of modern planning today, but the opposition decided they didn't like that," Fuqua says about the reaction to Decatur Crossing.
Over the past two decades, Fuqua has become one of metro Atlanta's most influential and controversial developers. As a driving force behind commercial real estate titan the Sembler Company for 24 years, he's built more than 80 projects, approximately 14 million square feet, which are worth more than $4 billion. Roughly half of them are located in metro Atlanta. He's constructed retail, residential, and mixed-use projects in Buckhead, Midtown, Edgewood, Brookhaven, Old Fourth Ward, and numerous metro Atlanta suburbs.
Last year, the development tycoon started his own company and is currently working on nearly a dozen projects in Georgia, Florida, and Colorado. Those plans include eight new metro Atlanta developments. The ones he's revealed so far include Decatur Crossing, as well as projects in Lindbergh, Morningside, and Peachtree Corners. Three more will be announced in the next two months. Rumor has it one may be located near Vine City.
Currently, his insistence on constructing a big-box-anchored strip mall along the Atlanta Beltline in Glenwood Park has made the developer a villain in the eyes of many Atlantans. But in the face of fierce opposition and an inevitable legal battle, the developer insists he'll move forward.
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