The new owners of a large, abandoned church in a hot zone for eastside development say a revival is coming, but for now, neighbors contend the site has devolved into an unholy eyesore that’s causing problems.

The former Gospel Tabernacle Cathedral and its parking lot are located in the 200 block of Clifton Street, between quickly developing Memorial Drive and Interstate 20, where Kirkwood meets East Atlanta. Alonzo A. Crim High School and its sports fields are across the street.  

Headed by prominent pastor Wiley Jackson, the 1980s church operated as part of World in Action Ministries until roughly three years ago. In September 2019, a fire ripped through the abandoned structure in the early morning hours, collapsing parts of the roof and façade.

The property’s status as a public nuisance appears to have begun then.

The graffiti-strewn exterior of Gospel Tabernacle Cathedral's former building is shown in December 2021. Damage from a 2019 fire was apparent at left. Josh Green/Urbanize Atlanta

The Kirkwood Neighbors Organization has sent requests to the city asking for a cleanup, while also pressuring the property’s former owner, Thrive Residential, to provide more upkeep while development plans took shape, according to a former board member.

As of early this year, Thrive Residential's former leadership was planning to redevelop the 4-acre site into a mix of 111 townhomes and condos, with prices starting in the $200,000s.

Those plans didn’t move forward, and according to neighbors in East Atlanta, the church property has gotten much worse lately.

According to code enforcement complaints, the church grounds have become an open dumping ground and homeless encampment where passersby have witnessed public urination and blatant drug use.

A visit to the site this week showed that chain-link fencing around the property had been knocked down, and trash ranging from piles of milk cartons to oversized teddy bears and tattered couches littered the grounds.

Josh Green/Urbanize Atlanta

Department of City Planning officials responded this week that they’re looking into the matter.

According to RealtyTrac, the property sold November 4 for $4.35 million. The church was built in 1987, per LoopNet records.

The new owners are seasoned Atlanta developers Urban Realty Partners, whose projects in the Memorial Drive corridor include The Leonard apartments and Oakland Park condos in Grant Park, and the forthcoming 982 Memorial project in Reynoldstown.

The former church's Clifton Street lot between Interstate 20 and Memorial Drive, where Kirkwood meets East Atlanta. Google Maps

When reached by email this week, Mark Riley, Urban’s managing partner, didn’t specify any immediate plans for the church property’s cleanup but said a colleague would detail a forthcoming redevelopment of the site soon.  

“On Clifton, we have big plans,” Riley wrote. “We’re still early in the process but excited about what we see happening in Kirkwood and surrounding areas.”

CORRECTION, December 6: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Kirkwood church property in question was not acquired when Toll Brothers bought Thrive Residential in 2020 and was never considered part of Toll Brothers' holdings. 

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