GREENVILLE, SC – A South Carolina church painted pink with the word “Trap” written on it by a real estate developer is for sale for $2.5 million, and some local residents say they’re betrayed and angry.
The former Bibleway Full Gospel Missionary Baptist Church property on Woodside Avenue in Greenville was sold to Rallis Wood LLC for $425,000 in April, according to a property deed.
LoopNet now lists it as available for redevelopment “in booming West Greenville.”
The listing came about after developer Ron Rallis heard concerns from residents about gentrification in the neighborhood.
Now neighbors of the property fear that is exactly what would be spurred by the sale the developer is seeking.
Historic church now ‘a shame’
The last church service was held at the site on June 19. It has since moved to another area about seven miles east of its old building.
Bibleway had been on Woodside Avenue since 1995. The property was owned by Church of God Trs. before Bibleway bought it, according to county property records.
Rallis did not return phone calls or text messages from The Greenville News, part of the USA TODAY Network, last week.
On July 30, he held an impromptu “community forum” where he addressed his painting of the shuttered church, as well as concerns he posted on social media and other media claiming he was falsely arrested for two felonies .
Community members at the forum expressed fears of gentrification, where longtime residents would be forced out by higher prices brought on by redevelopment.
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In a video posted to Instagram on Aug. 4, he expressed a willingness to work with neighbors in their efforts to rebuild the property, but included a statement that unnerved some: “Dad is here to make money “.
“Not only did I waste a lot of time giving him the benefit of the doubt, but he turned a historically black church into a shame because he doesn’t care,” local restaurant owner Dayna Lee said after hearing the statement.
He said Rallis used the community forums he hosted “as tools to deceive everyone who attended” and “never set out to be anything more than a publicity stunt in the first place.”
“I’m sure their luxurious lofts will rent quickly and for a lot of money, but I’m concerned about the people who have lived in the Woodside community for generations who will be adversely affected,” he said.
“Rooted in the Church”
The Greenville County Council approved rezoning the property to RM20 multifamily residential on July 19 to “redevelop the site for apartments or condominiums at 20 units per acre,” according to a zoning document.
The LoopNet listing, created Aug. 12, claims the property is approved for 42 units.
Rallis compared his painting of the church in the unincorporated area of the Woodside community to rapper 2 Chainz’s creation of a “Pink Trap House” to market the album “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music.”
“Then he (2 Chainz) took that platform and was able to invest in the community, and everything that came after the fact, once there was noise,” Rallis said at the July 30 forum.
Latisha Miles, whose family has lived in the Woodside area for decades, never thought the property would never become a church.
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It wasn’t until gentrification hit Woodside that they were even able to get sidewalks, he said. He called it “selfish” for Rallis to use his community to make a “statement” about a privileged white man who has difficulty with law enforcement.
“I was rooted in the church, I grew up in the church,” said Miles, who was upset by the church’s pink paint and “Trap” emblazonment. “I didn’t like it, so I contacted the owner,” Miles said.
Miles, a photographer who runs a Woodside community group, said she is passionate about her neighborhood. It can still tell you all the places where you used to be able to pick plums, blackberries, apples and more. She can also tell you about the streets where she and other neighborhood kids used to run and play hopscotch.
But the neighborhood is changing, he said. Many seniors have died, and others are losing their homes to higher taxes, he said. Newcomers are moving in as longtime community residents can no longer afford to maintain the homes, he said.
Studio rent in the area is more than $1,400 a month, according to a local loft website.
‘It’s not better’
Woodside, however, has been a predominantly low-income neighborhood.
Still, people have asked residents why they didn’t buy the church property, Miles said.
“If we could have bought the property, we probably wouldn’t have been in the neighborhood,” he said. “Everyday working-class people can’t afford that kind of expense. Of course, if we could, gentrification wouldn’t be happening across the country.”
Miles said he has nothing against Rallis, but he doesn’t agree with just putting housing on church property. It could lead to more gentrification, he said.
Miles doesn’t mind that people are trying to improve the community with new housing, but “what bothers me is that it’s not better for the people who are in the community,” he said.
She doesn’t know all the people there yet, but she feels a responsibility to be an advocate for them. His restaurant has fed many less privileged people in the last 10 months it has been open. Hundreds of dishes were given away for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So when Rallis painted the longtime predominantly black church pink and wrote Trap on it, Lee said he would help him paint it pink if he would commit to doing something with it that, in the long run , benefit the neighborhood.
The suggestions were launched by the community at the first community forum in July.
“None of the suggestions were viable for him: not a community center for at-risk youth, not a rehab center for people struggling with addiction, not a resource center for people leaving the prison system and coming back in the workforce, not a study center for the nearby Legacy Early College campus, not an HIV testing center (as Atlanta’s original pink church became, thanks to 2 Chainz) nothing. Lee said.
‘stand up or shut up’
Resident Terry Warnex said Rallis’ intent and purpose was to publicize his personal conflicts through the attention drawn from the pink church.
“Once the story broke and it was brought to the attention of the community, I think the owner himself was now in a bit of a dilemma, a dilemma he didn’t intend to be,” Warnex said.
Warnex said the community spoke up and asked him to “accuse or shut up.”
“Nothing’s final until it’s done. I think he’s going to find a way to let the story die down over time, while also refocusing his attention and energy on what brought this all about in the first place: the their personal situations”.
Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund with USA TODAY