Macon's New City Church gets jolt from historic power station

BY LIZ FABIAN   lfabian@macon.com
March 18, 2016 (reprinted from The Telegraph)

Photo by Woody Marshall

Photo by Woody Marshall

The mission of New City Church has not only been to transform souls, but to restore vitality to downtown Macon.

The 8-year-old congregation now will revitalize the historic Macon Railway & Light Company's 1915 power station as it moves into its own building in the coming months.

The former home of the Nashville South nightclub, known in more recent years as the Power Station, located at 1015 Riverside Drive, is going from last calls to altar calls.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the transformer station reduced high-voltage electricity and converted AC to DC for Macon's trolley cars.

The power conversion analogy is not lost on New City pastor Keith Watson, who believes the gospel of Jesus transforms lives.

"I have thought about that, actually," Watson said in a recent tour of the three-story brick building that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. "I think it's a part of maybe God's bigger plan."

The multi-cultural, Southern Baptist church was founded in 2008. Initial services were held at the Cox Capitol Theatre before Watson developed the 567 Center for Renewal in the old R.S. Thorpe & Son's clothing store on Cherry Street.

The congregation grew from an initial 40 people to about 300 at the current 567 worship space and to 350 in Milledgeville.

"We've very invested in downtown in all sorts of ways and we want to continue that, even when we're (at the new location), but our folks come from all over Middle Georgia," Watson said.

The Macon native remembers once playing pool during the building's club phase, but didn't really see its potential until recent weeks.

When he first looked at the property as a possible home for the growing church, all the windows were boarded up after vandals had smashed some of the glass.

"It was dark, but when we removed the boards and opened them up, I thought, those are church windows," Watson said.

Nearly three dozen brick, basket handle window arches, retrofitted with rectangular panes, allow natural light on all three floors.

It was love at first-sight for photographer Ashah Smith, who attends New City Church.

"I'm so excited. It's so beautiful," Smith said of the church's investment. "I see so much potential."

As modern brides look for non-traditional venues, Smith believes the church will become popular for weddings and other receptions, much like the Blacksmith Shop on Poplar Street.

"It has an urban industrial look," she said.

Over the main floor sanctuary, a large portion of the third floor is cut out to form a rectangular balcony.

The church plans to keep one of the bars on the upper floor and the large wooden bar that is off the lobby, which will serve as a welcome station and coffee bar.

"In my mind, I'm seeing people upstairs, and the entry way converted to a reception area," said Smith, who believes rental income will offset the church's investment.

Watson said they purchased the nearly 14,000 square-foot space for $300,000 and plan to make about the same amount of upgrades to the property, which will include developing space for a children's ministry in the bottom floor.

"They built these old buildings to last," he said. "We don't want to just save it, we want to highlight it."

Steel beams and gears will remain on the ceiling of the old power station that became part of the fledgling Georgia Power Company in 1928.

Very little needs to be done structurally with its sturdy construction, concrete floors and thick walls, he said.

"What we hope to do is clean it up a lot, clean it out a lot and bring back a lot of the old character and architecture of the building, and as much as possible just redeem and restore that."

Renovations are expected to take about three months.

"The building is just so amazing, I can't wait for it to be finished."

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.
Read more here: http://www.macon.com/living/religion/article67008292.html#storylink=cpy