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Church in historic Grand Avenue house is being forced to vacate

Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church, a white, clapboard house with a bright green cross greeting all who enter, is scheduled to be kicked out of its Grand Avenue home on Friday morning.

The issue: More than $400,000 in back payments owed to Coconut Grove Bank, which obtained a court judgment against the church in October. The bank’s attorneys initially had set a deadline for the congregation to vacate the building at 117 and 119 Grand Ave. on Wednesday, but extended that until Friday, according to Chamara Porcher, the church’s vice president of operations.

“Coconut Grove Bank expects the premises to be entirely vacated and all keys surrendered on Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. The failure to comply will result in the locks being changed and the Bank taking possession,’’ the bank’s attorney, Leslie Alan Schere, wrote in a June 5 letter to Maggie Porcher, church president.

Chamara Porcher, Maggie Porcher’s daughter, said on Thursday that the bank told them they would have to buy the property outright if they wanted to stay. The bank acquired the building in April.

“We continue to fight for this because it’s something we believe strongly in and it’s something that Coconut Grove needs,’’ Chamara Porcher said. “It’s a community, it’s a family.”

The bank declined to comment Thursday.

According to court records, the church borrowed $190,000 from Coconut Grove Bank in August 2002 to purchase the historic building, built in 1925. In September 2003, the church borrowed another $150,000 as a second mortgage to renovate the building.

Prominent Coral Gables architect Jorge Hernandez donated his time and drawings to renovate the historic structure, which reopened in 2004.

The church sits in the MacFarlane Homestead, a neighborhood in Coral Gables that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the only neighborhood listed on the federal registry in the city. The district, defined by the intersection of Grand Avenue and South Dixie Highway, was named after Flora McFarlane, a Bahamian immigrant who purchased 160 acres in the area in 1892.

In 1925, she sold the 20 acres that make up the historic district to Coral Gables founder George Merrick’s company, which turned it into a city subdivision. Many Grove Bahamian immigrants later built homes there. The district is known for its wooden cottages and vernacular architecture.

Today, gentrification can be seen throughout the neighborhood, with investors adding storefronts and new housing. Last fall, the Miami City Commission tentatively approved a massive redevelopment project that would replace six blocks of vacant lots and rundown apartments on Grand Avenue with multi-story shops, offices, new homes and a supermarket — the first in the heart of the Grove in decades.

The Porchers had planned to be part of that transformation. According to a permit application filed by Maggie Porcher in 2002, the permit called for “remodeling and (sic) historic structure to become a place of worship of 80 people.’’

The church helped provided tutoring to children of nearby schools and offered free computer access to neighbors. “Some of the kids would come when they didn’t have anything to do. It was a place to go after-school,’’ said Stephanie Mack, one of the tutors who worked for A+ Tutoring and Educational Services, which she said paid rent to the church and provided free tutoring. “We saw improvement in their grades, attitude and overall behavior.’’

In its peak, the church had about 60 members. By 2008, former pastor Jeffrey Hamilton left the church and began working with New Life Christian Worship Center, Maggie Porcher said. With him, he took about 30 to 40 members, she said. The congregation dwindled to about 20 members.

“It boggles my mind,” said Chamara Porcher, that the bank “can continue on and not see how this one little place has touched the community so much.’’

She said the church hopes to continue and is looking for investors.

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