Back in 2019, leaders with one of Atlanta’s oldest churches issued a call for developers who might help them realize a “God-size vision” for bringing a substantial amount of affordable housing to the city’s core.

A year and a half later, those efforts appear to be gaining steam at Atlanta First United Methodist Church, which hopes to develop 1.8 acres of underused downtown land next to its sanctuary into hundreds of inclusive housing units.

Since 1903, the gothic-style sanctuary has stood at 360 Peachtree Street, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places a decade ago. (Apart from some renovations, the sanctuary building would be untouched in the redevelopment.)

The church made headlines in August 2019 by issuing a Request For Proposals that summoned developers to bring their ideas for transforming the acreage—currently home to pay parking lots, an unused outbuilding, and an education building—between Peachtree and West Peachtree streets into “affordable/attainable housing.”

Then the initiative went silent, at least publicly, until last week.

Overview of the church property, as seen from behind it. Atlanta First United Methodist Church/

According to a letter obtained by Urbanize Atlanta from lead pastor Reverend Jasmine R. Smothers, the church’s leadership team and development task force have unanimously approved a joint venture with Evergreen Real Estate Group.

The church describes that company as “a mission-minded, nonprofit developer with a proven track record of multi-use, transformational, community-focused, urban-based development projects,” which would appear to fit the profile of a developer with that name based in Chicago.

“People everywhere said that COVID-19 would kill this ministry [development] opportunity; instead, COVID drove it forward!” wrote Reverend Smothers. “The vision has come to fruition! We are ready to execute this agreement and bring affordable and attainable housing to Peachtree Street in Atlanta!”

Per a development overview, work would be broken down into three phases.

Church parcels are outlined in black in this survey included with RFP materials. Atlanta First United Methodist Church

The first would see the Atlanta First Day School expanded onsite and a new parking garage built for at least 150 vehicles (per the RFP), plus the addition of retail space and a retooling of church offices.

The next two phases would bring two mixed-income towers with roughly 300 units total, consisting of 80 percent affordable housing, according to church officials.

The size of those buildings wasn’t specified.  

Church officials declined to comment today regarding timelines and other aspects of the venture, though Smothers noted in the letter that work can begin in earnest after last week’s vote. Records indicate the permitting process at the property has yet to begin.

Another aspect of the project would renovate an existing annex building to possibly house the Midtown Assistance Center, a longtime partner of the church.

The site’s SP1 zoning classification would hypothetically allow for a tower rising 50 stories or more, as church leaders have previously noted.

The ministry, which has operated downtown for more than 170 years, would determine what all of the property is used for in perpetuity, per the agreement.

The current church was erected in 1903 with Stone Mountain granite. According to church historians, its belfry contains the only church bell in Atlanta to survive the Civil War. It's been used in three different buildings since 1850. ZeWrestler/Wikimedia Commons; 2009 image

Atlanta First United Methodist Church isn’t expected to spend anything to develop the site, and all marketing costs should be refunded through future profits, officials noted. 

No land will be sold—the church will instead lease the ground to developers—and the deal is expected to provide the church “multiple streams of income … for years to come,” per the development document.

A town hall for the congregation to discuss development plans is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight.

How Peachtree Street (bottom right) fronts the church and its developable parcels. Atlanta First United Methodist Church

Downtown news (Urbanize Atlanta)