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The Payne Chapel AME Assembly Church

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Source: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - The Payne Chapel AME Assembly Church photo

One of the most remarkable historical rehabilitation projects in downtown Sarasota can be found on the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street.

The Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized after the turn of the 20th century. A group of Methodists who had been attending Bethlehem Baptist Church or the AME Church on the Manatee River in Bradenton, got together and decided it was time to organize an AME church in Sarasota. Members of the congregation given credit for organizing the church include The Reverend T.H. Arnold, Leonard Reid, Jerry Allen, Richard Grice and the Reverend C. Conely.

In 1903, the Florida Mortgage & Investment Company conveyed a deed for a lot at the corner of Mango Avenue and 11th Street (now Central Avenue and 5th Street) for the church. By 1905, the church was active enough to host the AME Church of Florida Annual Convention of Sunday School Workers. Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie, mayor of Sarasota and representing the Florida Mortgage & Investment Company, was one of the speakers at the convention.

The first one-room frame building on the site was replaced in 1914 with a bigger frame building, complete with a church bell donated by a winter visitor. This served the congregation until 1926, when a hurricane destroyed the building. Plans were drawn up immediately to replace the church on the same site. Money was donated, and with day and night construction, the church was completed in 1927.

The church was named Payne Chapel after Daniel Alexander Payne, who was elected AME bishop in 1852. For more than fifty years the building served the black community. However, by the late 1960s, the congregation was declining and the building was deteriorating. A new Payne Chapel was built on 19th Street and Central Avenue, and the original building was abandoned in 1975.

The building was condemned in 1973 by the city, and it stood vacant for a number of years. The building had several owners during the 1970s and 1980s, but it was not until a local partnership called Churchwalls, Inc. gained ownership of the building that plans were made to reconstruct the building.

By the late 1980s, Payne Chapel was merely a shell, with only its outer walls still up and a few beams of the roof in place. Since the outer walls could no longer support a multi-story interior, the concept of a building-within-a-building was designed.

However, timing was not on their side. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, a recession depressed the real estate market, and banks were not too willing to lend money to a project like Churchwalls. Pat Ball of Ball Construction Company assumed complete control of the building in 1987, and vowed to continue to reconstruct the building.

In April 1990, the City of Sarasota issued another demolition order, but Ball convinced them that progress was being made. Ball continued his reconstruction as money allowed. By the early 1990s, the City committed itself to revitalizing the Rosemary District and Central Avenue. Central Avenue was redone in 1995 with new sidewalks and street lamps, and businesses were encouraged to move into the area.

Financial conditions improved, and Ball was able to secure resources to finish the building. He also took advantage of a federal 10% investment tax credit for rehabilitating a historic building.

Today, the old Payne Chapel building houses Ball Construction Company and serves as an anchor to the revitalization of the Rosemary District. It is an excellent example of historical preservation contributing to the quality of life in neighborhood and communities.