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Citadel of Hope burns on Venable Street

The RTD is calling last night’s fire at the church-owned Citadel of Hope suspicious:

Authorities are investigating the cause of a two-alarm fire that caused heavy damage to a vacant, boarded-up structure in Richmond’s East End.

“I would consider it suspicious,” Richmond fire Capt. William M. Martin said this morning after the fire at 2230 Venable St. was brought under control.

34 comments

Magneto 08/19/2011 at 9:10 AM

I’m going to repeat my comment here:

I can’t help but feel disappointed in the property owner’s lack of care for this building. Based on rumors I’ve heard from some fairly good sources, the owner has been approached numerous times from interested buyers who’d like to do something with the building, but the owner has declined all offers. If this is true, shame on them.

Does anyone else have information on this situation?

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Magneto 08/19/2011 at 9:27 AM

Just thought I’d re-post the list of properties owned by this same owner based on research John did in 2009. I just checked all of them this morning on the City’s Parcel Mapper program, and every single one of them is still owned by the same owner – it’s pretty alarming:

1. 2112 VENABLE ST
2. 2114 VENABLE ST
3. 2118 VENABLE ST
4. 2120 VENABLE ST – CHURCH
5. 2121 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
6. 2200 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
7. 2202 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
8. 2204 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
9. 2206 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
10. 2207 VENABLE ST
11. 2220 VENABLE ST
12. 816 N 22ND ST (VACANT LOT)
13. 863 N 22ND ST (VACANT LOT)
14. 2230 VENABLE ST (VACANT BUILDING)
15. 2238 1/2 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
16. 2240 VENABLE ST (VACANT LOT)
17. 2242 VENABLE ST (VACANT BUILDING)
18. 3508 E CLAY ST (VACANT LOT)
19. 921 N 20TH ST (VACANT BUILDING)

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ann 08/19/2011 at 10:25 AM

Many properties owned either by this church, or the person in charge of the church, are now vacant lots because the structures which sat on them have burned. That is a worrisome history. Three of us who live on Venable Street met with city officials last month to discuss the fact that the building interior was a hangout and to voice concern that the building would indeed burn. The insecure aspect of the building has been an issue at almost every CAPS meetings for the last 2 years. CAPS/city contractors secured the building several times during this time frame but the back door was repeatedly un-secured almost immediately after each time (city contractors do this and other sorts of work – like cutting grass and brush from overgrown lots – when the property owners are neither responsive or responsible).

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JD 08/19/2011 at 10:34 AM

This property owner is clearly impeding redevelopment on Venable Street…

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Houdon 08/19/2011 at 10:43 AM

This owner had better not collect a dollar of insurance money. Shameful and completely avoidable.

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Boz 08/19/2011 at 1:30 PM

I’m not that familiar with the CAPS process, aside from reporting issues in my immediate area. Just so I get this straight, the process is designed as follows:

1. Owner neglects his/her property
2. Property becomes unsafe or no longer follows historic district guidelines
2. Community reports the property’s conditions to CAPS
3. Owner does not correct conditions despite CAPS’ notice
4. City takes it upon itself to stabilize the property for the owner
5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 while a number of years are allowed to pass
6. Propety eventually burns down under suspicious circumstances
7. Owner/city repeats steps 1 through 6 on owner’s other properties

I’m sure I’m leaving out the legal maneuvering that ultimately protects the property owner and permanently damages the neighborhood’s welfare. I really don’t understand why we can’t stand up to protect our neighorhoods from slumlords like this and their nefarious practices.

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sean 08/19/2011 at 3:02 PM

Does the church escape property taxes through this whole process?

So, we as Richmond City tax payers basically …
1. Pay to “stabilize” the property for the church
2. Miss out on tax revenues because the property is neglected AND tax-exempt
3. Forever miss out on progress AND future tax revenue because of the whole cycle.

Am I right?

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SEW 08/19/2011 at 3:25 PM

Sean,

You are correct.

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Kate 08/19/2011 at 4:59 PM

Having lived across from the now burned out building for five years, I can guess that it will remain that way for the next five to ten years. I am thankful that I no longer live in Richmond, where the church’s in the area are aloud to own property that is not taxed, and allow them to become drug dens and homeless hangouts as well as canvases for the local graffit artist, and are not even trying to clean them up. They have left that to the city and the community to pay for. To watch a neighborhood being dragged down by the very organizations that claim to be there to help the communities, show that they are doing a damb poor job.

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Observer 08/19/2011 at 5:05 PM

What a shame. I have always driven by that building and thought it would be perfect for apartments or condos (with the right zoning study of course) or even a new library or community center. Hope it can be repaired and put to good use somehow. Otherwise, we’ve lost another historic gem in the rough.

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eddie 08/19/2011 at 8:47 PM

being that these properties are owned by the church they do not pay a cent in real estate taxes to the city..if they did i gather they could not afford all those properties…am i correct

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MartinB 08/20/2011 at 1:11 AM

It is a sad state of affairs – from what I’ve read on here on CHPN – that so many churches own lots of abandoned properties in CH. Just wondering, is there any reason that the church in question in this case is not mentioned in the posting or any of the comments? Just curious.

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John M 08/20/2011 at 8:01 AM

Nothing more than oversight, I think. The link “church-owned” in the post links to what I dug up before about Melvin Williams & Temple of Judah, and then Magneto & Ann carried the conversation already knowing who we were talking about.

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ewc 08/20/2011 at 9:45 AM

Are they exempt from paying for code violations(tall grass, unsafe structure stuff)? Find out the city inspector’s name for that area. Call him/her directly. Ask questions, complain, and see where it goes. I have been dealing with an abandoned property next door to my house for two years. I have a good relationship with the inspector and we are working together to try and solve the problem. The more violations and complaints people make about the structures the more violations this church will have to pay for.

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buddycorbett 08/20/2011 at 11:02 AM

maybe if you guys spent as much time actually speaking to your longtime neighbors instead of just narcing them out to the code boys this neighborhood might fulfill its promise. racism masked as concern says a lot more about you poor fearful haters than it does about melvin and his congregation. oh and hey a big shoutout to whoever keeps calling blight. people who live in houses with violations should NEVER throw the first stone.this is the oldest integrated neighborhood on the east coast…..but i see you guys are working on that. why should longtime neighbors not enjoy the rising tide of affluence that is changing things around here. ? i am sure that by throwing folks into the bureaucratic blender you can feel good about yourselves and accomplish your odious hysterical preservation agenda. the house next door to mine is now on the code hit list despite my having cleaned up a toxic waste dump . with valid permits and plans i am still being written up as if i have done nothing to the property despite having already spent a goodly sum. meanwhile anonymous crybabies who have never bothered to engage me in conversation about my plans for the property are turning in complaints on a situation about which they have no knowledge. i would say be ashamed but none of you seem self aware enough to appreciate your very sad behavior. whats it like late at night when you realze what nasty little worm of hate inhabits your grinchy little hearts? at some point karma will take a chunk out of yer collective asses. nice little bunch….iam kidding.anybody that wants to be an actual person may feel free to contact me on facebook where gross little mystery mouth breathers are not welcome. man all i feel is sad .

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buddycorbett 08/20/2011 at 11:10 AM

magneto you and i have actually met. a little research is probably better than another rumor perpetrated by people who are using the system to try and steal temple of judahs property AND win a useless award.its ok right? this way folks can act on their racism ANd pretend their in favor of the very things they are destroying . have your cake ..and choke on it.

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Erik 08/20/2011 at 11:11 AM

I can’t stop laughing at that headline.

I know it’s wrong, but I just can’t.

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Boz 08/20/2011 at 11:58 AM

Call me naive, but I don’t think there’s any personal agenda at work here by people who are concerned about seeing some positive movement with these properties and trying to avoid watching another one burn down through neglect. And I certainly don’t see how race anything at all to do with concerns over these properties.

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buddycorbett 08/20/2011 at 12:22 PM

you know i dont want to be the boy who cried automatically to the thread about perceptions of racism but how about this? if this was a white,west end church that owned these properties would our conversation have taken such a sinister turn? would the owner be percieved as a possible arsonist if he was say,vander warner? i find it curious that several of the writers have personal axes to grind with the church and its members but hiding personal antipathy behind “neighborly concern” is not only hypocritical but a little sneaky. also ,what is wrong with the church developing its own plans for renovation? blogging anonymously is like paying for phone sex. you think yer talking to a hottie when you are really fantasizing to a 400lb dude named “peggy”. that concerned anonymous citizen might actually be a sneaky little developer,using his secret position to help himself to a great”deal”. yeah its paranoid but on a site where people state opinions ,then write in under another pseudoym to agree with themselves,anything is possible.i guess what i am saying is dont be so quick to judge. and for those of you who are playing at being neighborhood tattle tales ,is your house violation free? i have seen that codebook and trust me you dont have to be doing anything wrong to find some transgression that a regulation will apply to! then YOU get to ride in the blender!try to practice some of that golden rule bullshit i hear you all spouting.and have a nice day.

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laura 08/20/2011 at 2:53 PM

Buddy…stop already with your inane, nonsensical blather. Get back to the door…I hear some VCU freshmen are passing fake IDs.

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CapitalGal 08/20/2011 at 4:22 PM

@19 “if this was a white,west end church that owned these properties would our conversation have taken such a sinister turn?”

It already has! We’re having that conversation right now on CHPN in another thread. Check out the “goth kids” thread.

The guy who owns that house and MANY other properties here in Church Hill (some with a partner,) is white (and so is his partner,) and middle age. He’s pretty high-profile around town, and handy with tools when he wants to be.

They is NO excuse for the slip shod way he “manages” his properties. Plenty of calls from the city about the code violations–serious ones, not piddly stuff.

Slumlords come in all skin colors.

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KristinF 08/21/2011 at 7:25 PM

C’mon Buddy, they own 19 properties, mostly vacant, tax free. Many are not maintained, are used by vagrants, and several have burned. This is pretty straightforward impedance of progress in this neighborhood. I don’t give a crap what their race or religious affiliation is. It’s BS & holding us all back.

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Rachel Elves 08/21/2011 at 7:35 PM

Buddy does have a point about talking to Melvin about the plan for development of the Church’s properties. Calling a pastor a slumlord and possible arsonist is a little over the top. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt instead of leaping to judgement first.

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ewc 08/22/2011 at 9:04 AM

@23 Maybe the civic associations/neighbors could approach him and offer to help? Just a thought…..

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Magneto 08/22/2011 at 9:30 AM

Buddy, you are correct that you and I have met; it was great finally meeting you in person. I appreciate your feedback; you are completely entitled to your opinion.

Normally, I keep my comments pretty moderate on this blog and usually avoid any bickering/mudslinging. Most of my comments are usually on the optimistic/positive side, but given the facts of this case, I opted to weigh in with my two cents.

I’m not going to divulge my source, but their credibility is very high.

I don’t think this an issue of race – comments on the blog have spoken out against many an absentee landlord/property owner regardless of their race. Google the name Don Lacey or Stacy Martin who both have/had a huge presence in Church Hill and you’ll come up with examples of what I’m talking about.

The issue at hand – in my opinion – is that the neglect of this property has been going on for a long time and there’s already a track record of other nearby properties (under the same ownership) also burning down. I don’t think there was any arson either and I’m not suggesting it; however, I’ll leave that for the inspectors to ultimately determine. This property (and any other long-term vacant/significantly dilapidated structure) is a threat to health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood, especially the immediate surroundings. By this I don’t mean property values; I mean overall safety. Thankfully, we have a great fire department, but it’s not a fool-proof system. We live in a dense, urban neighborhood, where most structures are either attached or close enough to one another where the threat of a fire spreading is greater. A good example of this is the Carver/VCU fire a few years ago that literally crossed over Broad Street (which is pretty wide) and burned a lot of Carver. If I was a nearby neighbor of this property, I’d be pretty concerned. It seems like this situation has all the ingredients for a similarly devastating event in Church Hill. Obviously, this problem can occur with occupied properties, too, but I think the probability of it reaching such a dangerous level is far less, especially since most occupied structures are under some sort of oversight and an issue like a fire can be caught at a much earlier time. This particular fire occurred sometime around 12:45 a.m. when many folks are already sleeping. Had it been occupied (or at the very least more properly secured), maybe this fire wouldn’t have happened.

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James 08/22/2011 at 10:41 AM

I had no idea the pastor involved in this was black. All I knew is that some asshole likes to sit on slum houses tax free. Churches and so-called religious leaders should not get a free pass from criticism.

On a side note, buddy never ceases to amaze me. White trash playing the race card is a whole new world of confusion.

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buddycorbett 08/22/2011 at 7:00 PM

james i am sorry your voice is muffled from having your head up your ass. i cant hear your anonymous bullshit you puke.magneto what do you think about the reported fact that the property was buttoned up so tight it was a problem for the fire dept.? it certainly seems as if it was secured correctly. if some of you fine folks wanted to invest in the community you could contact the church or just continue to opine . instead of practicing the fine art of mystery hatin,perhaps you could refrain from burning up phones and web pages making complaints about a church that does a lot of good in the community. try to figure out a way to involve long time residents in the rebirth of an already longstanding community. they as much as you and i deserve a chance to be part of the gentrification transformation. its called sharing a goal. guess what? nobody wants the neighborhood to get anything but better!. well ,except james. that kid…….

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Mary Anne 08/22/2011 at 7:01 PM

James, you need to move.

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James 08/22/2011 at 11:38 PM

Thanks for your constructive comments buddy (and Mary). You guys are doing so much to help this community.

/sarcasm

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Alex 08/23/2011 at 6:16 AM

James,

Whether he’ll admit it or not, Buddy knows if the neighborhood gets too nice he’ll eventually get priced out of here.

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JD 08/23/2011 at 8:23 AM

Buddy, the church may be a positive influence on the neighborhood but it is also holding our neighborhood back by sitting on so many blighted properties. Imagine if all of the property owned by the church was redeveloped…Venable Street could be a much different place and I like to imagine it would be better…

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James 08/23/2011 at 9:40 AM

You are right, Alex. Let’s hope that happens sooner than later.

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buddycorbett 08/23/2011 at 12:39 PM

hey alex try not to worry about me too much. feel free to engage me once your testicles drop!after listening to a couple of months of your fake brainy drivel i have to ask ,how did a dork like you end up in a community without a gate on it?somewhere a crown is missing a princess and wherever you are i imagine there is some fussiness going on. you big silly. enjoy your status as a guaranteed wet blanket. it is to laugh….and cry.

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John M 08/24/2011 at 4:56 PM

I was sent the following email and press release:

Dear Editor,

We are sharing the attached press release with you that we would like published on your website in response to the community comments that following news of the recent fire at the Citadel.

Realizing that there are many newcomers to Union Hill, many residents are not aware of the history and/ or current activities of the Temple of Judah Church and of the Citadel. The attached press release will serve to inform them.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Helene Vango
Temple of Judah Ministries, Public Relations
(804) 780-0841

Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: August 23, 2011
Contact: Helene Vango (804) 986-3041

Not Just a Building
Grounds of Church-Owned Building Still in Use at Time of Fire,

Many in the city were of the opinion that the building owned by Temple of Judah Ministries and known as The Citadel of Hope, in Richmond’s East End, was an abandoned building that was not in use when it caught on fire, the morning of Friday, August 19. However, according to the pastor of the church, Bishop Melvin Williams, Jr., even though the building itself had been boarded up since 2009, after being vandalized, the grounds of the building have been in continuous use.

Events held on the grounds of the Citadel include a ‘National Night Out Against Crime’ event, held two weeks ago, and a Family and Friends Day cookout hosted by the church in July. Also, there is a basketball court and new playground equipment that are used by neighborhood children on a daily basis.

Bishop Williams said that the church may be forced to relocate an upcoming ‘Back to School’ event scheduled for August 24th.

We were forced to run a lot programs that were once run out of the Citadel at the church, after we had to board up the Citadel when it was vandalized in 2009 and all of the appliances and plumbing fixtures were stolen,.”, said Bishop Williams. This includes a summer feeding program for youth for which meals are being served on the second floor of the church.

The Citadel, formerly known as House of Happiness and located two blocks down from the church, was purchased by the Temple of Judah from another church, and has been in operation for approximately 30 years.

The center, which was opened by the church during the recession of the 1980’s as Temple of Judah’s ministry outreach arm, was initially a homeless overflow shelter. The church had previously been allowing homeless persons to seek shelter in the sanctuary overnight. Over 10,000 homeless individuals were housed by the Citadel and they were served approximately 25,000 meals. The church’s homeless initiative inspired the program CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter) and encouraged other churches to provide services for homeless individuals, as well.

Other programs administered by the Citadel of Hope include: partnering with Operation Blessing, a worldwide aid program administered by the 700 Club, to distribute food to needy area residents; organizing a ‘Community Love March Against Crime’; awarding Honor Bikes to disadvantaged youth to encourage them to achieve honor roll; starting a Hats and Gloves distribution program to provide area students with warm winter gear in their school colors; hosting an annual Yuletide Drive for the Needy to provide food baskets to families during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons; working with the city jail and area penal institutions to provide over 35,000 Inmate Care Packages, over the past 20 years, during the holiday season, that include a Bible and toiletries; operating a food pantry and a clothes closet; and administering a substance abuse counseling program.

The most recent activity to be housed in the Citadel was a free summer weekend daycare program, from 2006 to 2008, that serviced 75 to 80 children per week and featured outdoor games, sports and other recreational activities.

Despite the recent set-backs and the current economy, Temple of Judah Ministries is determined to re-open the facility and will step-up their fundraising efforts. The church has set a $1.5 million fundraising goal for which they have been accepting pledges and are seeking more.

Bishop Williams said that the needs of the community have grown even greater during the current recession and that the urgency, if not the funding, has been there for some time to reopen the Citadel of Hope.

In recent years, Temple of Judah ministries has purchased several properties on Venable Street, in order to enable the congregation to expand while remaining in the East End community. Without the room to grow and host activities, other churches have been forced to move far away from the community in which they previously both resided and served.

“This is where our mission is [in the East End Community] and where we are most needed.”, said the bishop.

For more information on the Citadel and how you can help, contact Temple of Judah Ministries at (804) 780-0841.

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