Saying Goodbye to a Neighborhood Landmark
Demolition is underway at the corner of Ambler and Grape Street. Last August, Abilene City Council approved a request from Walmart to construct a “Neighborhood Market” at the former home of University Baptist Church. That corner was home to the church for almost 100 years. The sanctuary's tall angular stained-glassed front was an icon of North Abilene. In 2014, the church required a daunting $5 million to renovate the historic buildings. With rising maintenance costs and shrinking attendance, church leaders decided to sell the property in order to focus on ministry. They started meeting in the Abilene Civic Center under the name Radiant Life Church.
The "Neighborhood Market" will be the third Walmart location in Abilene. This new site, however, will be considerably smaller than either of the “Supercenters” on Highway 351 or Southwest Drive. It will not likely be open 24 hours-a-day like its bigger predecessors when it opens in the fall of 2016. In addition to groceries, preliminary plans showed fuel pump stations along Ambler and a drive-thru pharmacy facing N 21st Street.
In many ways this has been a good move for everyone. Under its new banner, the church has refreshed its numbers and its focus. Selling the property means the aging building won't sit vacant nor continue to deteriorate from vandalism and misuse. Walmart will employ 80-100 people and give another grocery option to North Abilene residents.
I have brought up this whole affair with neighbors on occasion. (One friend watches the daily action through the window of her front-row seat home on N 21st Street.) Understandably, the responses are mixed. Some are happy to have a Walmart within walking distance. Other are worried about increased traffic of customers and delivery trucks. Some, especially former church members, hate to see the iconic landmark torn down. Still others are relieved that the church building will not fall into further disrepair while standing vacant. The interesting thing is that I have heard individual neighbors express more than one of these emotions at the same time. It seems that change brings in the same bag both good news and grief. Progress comes mixed with new worries and concerns. The trick is to acknowledge it all, to take the whole mixed bag for what it is. I'm glad the neighbors I've spoken with see both the positive and negative because that means they will be able to listen to each other. The one who is mostly excited can still bear with the one who is mostly grieving. And that is the most beautiful way change can happen.