Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Five years after purchasing the former K-Town Furniture store on West Innes Street, St. John’s Lutheran Church is demolishing the building, having never used it.
“It didn’t pan out as we had hoped,” the Rev. Rhodes Woolly said.
The church bought the property for $1.5 million with plans to use the building for a youth and community center, as well as a contemporary worship service.
But as logistical and financial concerns grew, church members decided to pursue other options, Woolly said. The congregation recently voted to purchase the former Woodson Law Firm building at the corner of West Council and North Church streets.
“It was a great plan and the idea is still right, but we just knew it needed to be a closer location,” he said.
Church members would have had to cross Fisher Street from the main campus at 200 W. Innes St. to the K-Town property, which was a concern, Woolly said.
And the price tag for the project continued to grow.
“It’s a shame it didn’t work out,” said Bill Safrit, president of the Congregation Council.
The church discovered the building’s weak foundation wouldn’t support youth ministries and church services, Safrit said.
“It would have cost us a fortune to fix it,” he said.
Then, the sprinkler system broke last winter when temperatures plunged.
“That would have cost us another fortune,” Safrit said. “By the time we put all these fortunes together, we could have built another building or leased a building elsewhere.”
The church needed only a demolition permit from the city because the building was not located in a local historic district.
St. John’s doesn’t have immediate plans for the K-Town property, other than to plant grass, keep the trees and retain some parking, said Woolly, who became pastor two years ago. The church tore down the building now because members were concerned about liability issues, he said.
People in the community were encouraging the church to remove the structure, which had become an eyesore.
“Green space will be a much more attractive gateway to downtown,” Woolly said.
St. John’s has the good fortune to be located in the heart of Salisbury and wants to serve as a “vibrant, faithful voice” for the downtown, he said.
“We do have that voice in the downtown, and we take it very seriously and with a great deal of humility,” Woolly said.
Safrit and the church’s planning committee continue to meet twice a month to discuss options for expansion. The committee would like to present two options to the congregation and be ready to move forward on one of them by November, he said.
The youth program and contemporary service have outgrown their locations on the main campus, Woolly said. Several spaces also need renovating, which would be easier if the some programs moved to new areas, he said.
The church plans to dedicate the lower level of the education building to children’s ministries, including the St. John’s Kindergarten, Woolly said.
The congregation will have the final say, he said.
The church hosted more than 3,000 meetings last year, including many community groups such as Scouts.
“A new facility would help us with our own needs and the needs of the community,” Woolly said.
Renovations will include the sanctuary building, but not the sanctuary itself, and the basement fellowship hall, Safrit said.
As the church considers how best to serve its growing membership as well as the community, St. John’s is enjoying its new, youthful pastor, Safrit said.
“Rhodes has been shot in the arm for enthusiasm for the whole congregation,” he said.
St. John’s bought the K-Town building in 2006 from the Ketner family’s Rowan Investment Co. The purchase included adjacent property at 125 N. Fulton St., which housed the Bijoux Collections women’s clothing shop that recently went out of business.
The original building at 324 W. Innes St. was a Glenn Ketner Sr. grocery store and then became a Winn Dixie before K-Town opened the furniture store in 1972. K-Town closed in 2005 after 33 years of business in Salisbury.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.