COLUMBIA, S.C. — A historic Black church building in downtown Columbia got the green light on Thursday for a three story addition and a new courtyard in an effort to transform the building into a cultural arts center.
Columbia's Design/Development Review Commission on Thursday approved plans to transform the former site of Bethel AME Church on Sumter Street into a cultural arts center.
Those plans include a three story addition and a new courtyard. Interior restructuring will include a black box theater and training room, dressing room, work rooms, a warming kitchen and offices. The three story addition will include a new lobby, restrooms, stairwell and elevator.
"The addition will be brick and will reference historic windows and features while being detailed differently," according to the application by GMK Architects. "Likewise, the new small tower on the addition references the historic church towers while streamlining detailing."
According to Amy Moore, the city's principal planner for historic preservation, it's important to maintain the building's historic feel while continuing renovations.
"One of the difficulties when you're doing addition to a building like this is how do you do the addition in such a way that it's complimentary to the original structure but it can't be mistaken as original to that structure," Moore said.
Moore said that having a unique feel to the city is crucial to bring in visitors and tourists. "There's actually dollar value to renovating historic buildings. They bring people in."
The Romanesque Revival building, which is under the control of Columbia's Bethel AME Church. was built in 1921 and designed by one of the nation's first Black architects, John Anderson Lankford. The building was the site of numerous mass meetings and planning sessions during the 1960s civil rights movement.
Efforts to transform the building into a cultural arts center have long been underway through The Renaissance Foundation.