The Web site for Scripture Cathedral, one of the city’s most prominent black churches, describes it as “the church in the heart of the city, with the people of the city in our hearts.”
But like many D.C. churches, Scripture Cathedral has watched members of its congregation depart for the suburbs in recent years, and now it may be planning to follow.
Led by Bishop C.L. Long, Scripture Cathedral has been in the Shaw neighborhood for more than 25 years, long before dirt was ever turned on the convention center down the street. It has hosted peace vigils after bouts of neighborhood violence, Thanksgiving dinners for the poor and aid drives for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The church has also provided a place of solace for prominent black Americans when other organizations would not. A crowd of more than 1,000 greeted O.J. Simpson there less than a year after he was acquitted of murder charges. Months after being arrested on drug charges by the FBI, then-mayor Marion Barry worshipped at the church while in search of a path away from substance abuse.
The neighborhood around the church is rapidly changing, driven by construction of new luxury apartments and chic restaurants. In January — after years of developers knocking on the church’s door — a deal has been reached to sell the building at Eighth and O streets NW to a pair of local developers for $10.5 million.
Pending reviews for zoning and other matters, the deal would allow developers Four Points and the Warrenton Group to tear down the church and build a mixed-use project. A copy of the contract, viewed by Capital Business, is dated Jan. 31 and signed by Assistant Pastor Donnell Long, son of C.L. Long.
In an interview recently, C.L. Long demurred when asked about the deal, but said the church is so popular with parishioners that Scripture Cathedral needed to expand and will do so in Maryland. The church holds Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday services that he said are all popular. “The plan that is in place now is to have a church here and one in Maryland,” he said. “And that will happen.”
The changes in Shaw continue. In 1990, the neighborhood around Scripture Cathedral was 79.2 percent black, according to Census data. That dropped to 44.1 percent in 2010. Directly across the street from Scripture Cathedral, developer Roadside is building a 1 million-square-foot project that will feature a Giant grocery store, 629 residences and a 182-room Cambria Suites Hotel. A billboard touts the project’s rooftop dog park.
Both developers are based in the District and specialize in urban revitalization projects. Four Points recently built Progression Place, a mixed-use project nearby on 7th Street NW that is the new home to the United Negro College Fund and includes 205 luxury apartments, the 7th Street Flats. The Warrenton Group is a minority partner in Park Morton, an affordable housing project on Georgia Avenue NW.
Warren Williams Jr., founder of the Warrenton Group, said he had been working toward an agreement with Long for years. He said he wasn’t sure yet what the companies would build in place of the church.
“It’s too early to determine whether the market will be for apartments or whether there’s a condo market or whether we could even do a boutique hotel,” Williams said. Stan Voudrie, a developer and investor with Four Points confirmed a contract on the property but declined to discuss it, citing a confidentiality agreement.