Property purchased near event center site raises questions
By LINDELL JOHN KAY
Sunday, July 30, 2017
An immediate family member of a Rocky Mount city councilman purchased property at the location of the Downtown Event Center while the council was still deciding the site of the future facility.
Councilman Andre Knight used a proxy to buy the land and church building at 202 Ivy St. for $10 on May 20, 2015. The property was valued at $30,000 during the recent property revaluation.
The council was deciding in closed session meetings at the time the church was purchased where the multi-million dollar event center would be located, according to a comparison of deeds, tax records, council meeting minutes and archived news reports.
“Are you crazy?” Knight responded to Telegram questions whether he had the property purchased as part of a real estate speculation scheme.
Knight said his family purchased the property to protect it from demolition.
“The Knight family plans to renovate and restore the property for use as an African American Museum of History to commemorate the tremendous accomplishments, achievements and contributions that black people have made to Eastern North Carolina and the world,” Knight said.
Knight attempted to sell the church property to the city, according to a source within city government who asked not to be identified.
City spokeswoman Tameka Kenan-Norman confirmed the council once considered buying the Ivy Street property, but isn't now. She said a more detailed answer would require research into council meeting minutes.
No public record could be found of Knight recusing himself from any votes taken on the event center. The council purchased surrounding properties with the threat of eminent domain and tore down several structures, according to archived news reports.
The dilapidated church building is the only structure for two city blocks, surrounded by city-owned property with ongoing work to grade what will be the parking lot of the event center.
After years of talking about it, the council voted March 23, 2015, to hire a construction company to design and build the facility. Its location wasn't announced publicly until July 27, 2015.
A member of the Knight family was gifted properties April 6, 2015, at 116 and 124 Tarboro Street, according to deed records. The properties are within two-tenths of a mile of Moore's Bicycle Shop at 247 S. Washington St., the first site the council looked at for the event center. The location was changed to just north of the Douglas Block when plans expanded to include sports facilities, according to meeting minutes and interviews with property owners.
Knight said since Epiphany Episcopal Church — formerly Holy Hope Mission — was the first African-American Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, it's a historic landmark. The church is also associated with the Anna Easter Brown local historical maker on Atlantic Avenue.
“We tried to preserve her house beside Hunter Odom, but we couldn't,” Knight said.
Knight — who has advocated for historical markers to be erected in the area — said after several conversations over several months with city staff, it became evident the city had neither funds nor plans to acquire the church building.
“The staff was clear with the City Council that they planned to demolish the structure,” Knight said.
The owner of the church reached out to Knight for help transferring the property to someone who would value the church's history and legacy. It was decided the Knight family would take ownership of the property to preserve it, Knight said.
A committee is being assembled to raise funds for historic restoration; archive and display existing memorabilia; recruit additional collections from area residents; connect to other national and international collections; manage the historic renovation process; establish collaborations with the city and other entities; and determining the next steps to take.
“African American history in Rocky Mount and the Twin Counties has been overlooked, destroyed and devalued,” Knight said. “This project has as much history as the former Confederate-owned Rocky Mount Mills that now has new owners and investors with fresh, energetic, contemporary and inclusive vision, the Helen P. Gay Historic Train Station, the May and Gorham Building and the Douglas Block. The Holy Hope Church project is as vibrant, exciting and significant as any other historical development taking place in Downtown Rocky Mount.”