NAACP joins housing groups to develop historic property
Last June, the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) mounted a successful last-minute fundraising effort to save from the wrecking ball a 115-year-old building in Oak Bluffs that housed the Bradley Memorial Church, the first African-American church on the Island.
The IAHF teamed with the Island Housing Trust to develop a plan for the property that includes the creation of commercial and residential condominium space and a multi-use cultural center.
On the eve of Bradley Square's first formal public hearing before the Martha's Vineyard Commission tonight, housing leaders this week announced a partnership with the Martha's Vineyard chapter of the NAACP.
The NAACP executive committee and general membership agreed unanimously to partner with the IAHF and use its resources to help raise the remaining $1.7 million needed for the $5.1 million project. In addition to helping to preserve a part of the Island's African American heritage, the NAACP will have a permanent home in the former Bradley Memorial Church.
"To honor and preserve the historic site of the Bradley Memorial Church with this affordable housing development is testament to the sensitive preservation of the Denniston building and abutting land," Natalie Dickerson, NAACP president, said in prepared remarks included in a press release. "Our hats are off to the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the tireless volunteers that have made this a reality."
Laurie Perry, NAACP second vice president, told The Times the NAACP has been an ardent and persistent advocate for the project. Ms. Perry, a member of the Bradley Square design committee, brought the proposal back to the NAACP executive committee and membership, which voted unanimously to support the project.
"We are very excited to be a part of such a collaborative effort," she said. "I can't say enough about the support from Oak Bluffs town officials."
The project participants include Habitat for Humanity and the Martha's Vineyard Museum. The Oak Bluffs community preservation committee has also recommended using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to help fund the project.
Pat Manning, IAHF executive director, said it is fitting that the Vineyard chapter of the NAACP should have a permanent home in the historic church. "We love the idea that they will be permanent residents there and the doors will always be open," he said.
The reverend Oscar K. Denniston opened his church, at the corner of Masonic and Dukes County avenues, a century ago. He named it the Bradley Memorial Church in honor of Susan Bradley, with whom Reverend Denniston had worked at the same location, then known as the Oakland Mission, to help recent immigrants to the Island.
Mr. Manning said the Oak Bluffs community preservation committee has also recommended allocating $25,000 in CPA monies to catalog and preserve materials and Denniston family memorabilia found in the church that once functioned as the center of black heritage and culture on Martha's Vineyard.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen referred the Bradley Square project to the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI) on Feb. 22. The DRI trigger was an expansion of an existing building with 10 or more dwelling units.
According to the DRI application, the applicants are IAHF, IHT and contractor John Early, a former long-time member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission and a former West Tisbury selectman.
The applicants plan to move and restore the main building and create a multi-use cultural space downstairs that would be operated by an Island non-profit, along with an office condominium that would be owned by the NAACP.
The former Denniston family quarters above would be converted into two affordable apartments, one of which would be finished in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard.
Two additional three-story buildings would be built with five residential condominium units in each. The first floor of each unit would house two 913-square-foot, live-in artist workshops. On the second floor would be two 626-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments. A market rate 1,004-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment would be located on the third floor.
According to the DRI application, the plan is to sell the 10 non-market rate units for between $150,000 and $325,000 to families earning between $35,000 and $95,000 annually, under permanent rental and resale restrictions.
The residential studio spaces are designed for Island artists and intended to spur the growth of the recently formed Oak Bluffs Arts District, in which the property is located. "A courtyard, ample on and off-street parking, and open space will surround this community of pedestrian-friendly galleries and home sites," a press release explains.
For more information, call IAHF at 508-696-0943 or go to islandaffordable.org.