Construction of the District's new $38-million municipal office building has been stalled by a minister's refusal to vacate his storefront church on the site. The delay could add thousands of dollars to the final price, according to city officials and the firm clearing the site.
Bishop Edward H. Moore's refusal to move from his Life Church of Good Hope in the 2000 block of 14th Street NW could cost the city as much as $2,000 a day by late next week, according to the president of the firm preparing the building site on the northwest corner of 14th and U streets NW.
Last Friday a D.C. Landlord-Tenant Court judge postponed until March 1 action on the city's request to have the court evict Moore from the small, one-story building his church has occupied since 1980.
"I'm not naive enough to believe that the D.C. government will let me stand in the way of that building's construction," Moore said last week. "But they're going to have to find me another church if they want me to leave."
Moore, 53, pastor of the 25-member congregation and bishop of the United Fellowship of Churches, Inc., a coalition of some 30 storefront churches around the District, said the Fellowship leased the 14th Street building from the city in 1977.
This is not the first time that Moore, who founded the Life Church of Good Hope 13 years ago, has been displaced by a District development project. At its original location on New York Avenue NW, Moore's church boasted a congregation of more than 200 members before it was forced from that location in February 1980 to make way for construction of the Convention Center, Moore said.
After three months in a building in the 2900 block of 14th Street NW, Moore moved the church to the United Fellowship's building it now occupies. That structure was later acquired by the city's Redevelopment Land Agency for the municipal building.
"The moves that I've been forced to make have reduced my church's membership to just a fraction of what it once was," said Moore. Drug trafficking and prostitution in the neighborhood also have driven away members, he added.
Madeline C. Petty, acting director of the city's Housing and Community Development Department, which is overseeing the site preparation, declined to comment on Moore's refusal to leave his church. But Richard Coward, a department spokesman, said DHCD has been trying for more than a month to force out Moore.
The United Fellowship of Churches, headed by Moore, rents the church building on a "temporary, month-to-month basis" and was given 30 days to vacate, said Coward. He said he did not know when the notice was mailed, but "it was contemplated that he would be off the lot well before now," Coward added.
While the United Fellowship is the legal tenant, the Life Church of Good Hope "has been the de facto tenant," Moore said. "That is now the home for our church," he said. Moore said he has not received an eviction notice from the city.
Vesharn N. Scales, president of Minority Truckers Inc., the firm that has a $900,000 contract with the city to demolish the buildings and excavate the 498,000-square-foot tract, said the church's refusal to leave has delayed the demolition by at least two weeks.
"We've definitely been held up by it," said Scales. "Right now it's a big inconvenience, but if we don't tear that (the church building) down within one week, it will end up being a big cost." Scales, whose company started demolishing the buildings in the first week of January, said his overhead and equipment costs will rise as the delay continues.
"We should have 30 trucks in here taking out dirt, instead of the 10 you see here now," Scales said as he surveyed the muddy construction site earlier this week. He said his crews were forced to clear rubble by hand from around Moore's church to avoid damaging it.
"In situations like this, delays can end up costing us--or the city--a couple of grand a day, easily," Scales said.
On Monday, rubble was piled close to the walls of the church, a simple structure with iron bars on its windows and gold lettering and a cross near its front door on 14th Street.
Moore, meanwhile, remained adamant about his church's decision not to leave. "We're only asking that we be allowed to stay and help the poor, the needy and the sick in our community," Moore said.
"When the city evicts tenants, it has to give them the same rights as if they owned the property ," said Moore, the grandson of a Baptist preacher, who holds a graduate divinity degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa. "Don't think for a minute that this is going to end with the landlord-tenant court.
"We'll go as high as we have to to ensure that the church still has a home."