Downtown historic black church could close its doors and make way for hotel development

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 8, 2016) -- The city's oldest African American church could soon be coming down. The congregation has struggled to pay for intense repairs on the downtown Indy building. Now they've accepted an offer and a local developer has plans to turn that space into a hotel.

The congregation and community set out to save Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church. The 147 year old building is literally falling apart and needed $2 million  in repairs.

"Well the fundraising efforts did not do as well as we had hoped it would," said Pastor Louis Parham.

Pastor Parham says the congregation has agreed to sell the historic structure. It's one of the lasting memories of old Indiana Avenue, an area where African Americans once thrived on the business and music scene. The church has entered into a contract with Sun Development and Management Corporation to redevelop the property.

"What we'd like to do with Bethel is preserve as much as we can," said Sun Development CEO Bharat Patel.

The developers want to build two hotels that will total about 200 rooms. The $30 million project would keep pieces of Bethel's historic look, like the front tower mixed with a modern structure that caters to the college crowd and visitors.

"What we thought that if you go from one end to other end there's very little retail if any with that much student population. So we would clear the retail along the street on west street side. Coffee shop, pizza place or whatever," said Patel.

"There are bittersweet feelings. The memories run deep. But, the building is 147 years old. The congregation is 180 years old," said Parham.

It's a piece of history that offered a place of worship and refuge and for those who hate to see it go Pastor Parham says the spirit of Bethel will live on.

" I would tell them that the building doesn't disappear from the Indianapolis skyline. Certainly Bethel AME church will not disappear from the city. We will continue to be apart of the city's history. We'll just be creating new history in a new location."

The developer has offered the congregation $50,000 a year for the next 10 years to help them rebuild and maintain a new church. The city still has to approve the project and the design plan.

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