Greenville pink church debate continues, with September 5th deadline for ideas | Greenville News
WEST GREENVILLE — When Ron Rallis first opened the doors of his boldly painted pink church to a confused congregation, he was asked to explain why he created a spectacle in the heart of a historically disadvantaged area.
The prominent Greenville developer said it was done to protest an abuse of power by a local US congressman and police, and to express his frustration over an alleged fight over custody of his daughter.
At the end of this hectic forum at the end of July, the community said goodbye with a promise of Rallis. The former church, with “TRAP” emblazoned above the entrance, is to be used for the general public.
Exactly what will happen to the church on Woodside Avenue is still in the stars two weeks later. Rallis reconvened with parishioners on August 13 to discuss how to keep his promise.
He gave the group until September 5 to pitch ideas. In the time since the first forum he has met with community members. Rallis said the talks had been productive but declined to give details.
If he changes his mind, the former Bibleway Full Gospel Missionary Baptist Church and two acres he bought in December 2021 for $425,000 could be used to build up to 48 townhouses. Greenville County rededicated the property for this use in May.
“I don’t know what I’m doing with this room,” Rallis said on Aug. 13. “I’m here and I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s try to do something goofy, and I’m flexible.'”
On July 22, the congregation woke up to find that the church had been transformed into an ode to the pink “fall house” created by rapper 2 Chainz in Midtown Atlanta. The word “TRAP” was painted above the front doors. A model police car and oven, both also painted all pink, were set down in front to complete the replica.
The replica police car has since been covered in graffiti, its nostalgic police lights mounted on the roof broken. It frequently hosts posts of protest literature.
The spectacle caused quite a stir and drew a torrent of onlookers, both in person and in viral online posts. It also sparked a debate: what does it mean for a privileged white developer to buy a former black church, embrace hip-hop culture, and thereby draw attention to personal grievances?
The area just outside the city limits has faced increasing gentrification pressures in recent years as growth radiates west from downtown Greenville.
During the August 13 meeting, members of the black community expressed a mixture of support, curiosity and skepticism.
Shakir Robinson is the son of Greenville civil rights activist Leola Robinson-Simpson and the leader of a boxing club that serves as a community center in West Greenville. He said black communities are used to broken promises from people of means.
“It’s like the same old song,” said Robinson. “It’s just so common in communities that new people come, new ideas and nothing happens.”
For the past six weeks, Rallis has used an Instagram account originally dedicated to his idea of turning the church into a wedding venue to publicly engage with US Rep. William Timmons, the Greenville Police Department and his estranged wife measure up. The report, which is public and generates thousands of views, has recently shifted from voicing grievances to the fate of the church.
Rallis recently posted a video showing areas inside the church in an extremely dilapidated state. At one point in the video, addressing his critics, he revealed that the property had been rezoned to accommodate 48 residential units.
“If I build these 48, these 48 will not be affordable housing,” Rallis said in the video. “I tell you that. I mean, daddy’s here to make some money.”
He followed the comment with a promise to consider other ideas.
Bill Gibson — the son of another Greenville civil rights activist, the late Lottie Gibson — confronted Rallis about the comment during the forum.
“I’ll tell you what I think, Ron,” Gibson said before storming out of the church. “I don’t think you’ll do much of anything.”
Rallis has teamed up with community activists to develop a plan. Community organizer Traci Fant facilitated discussions between the developer and the community. On August 12, Rallis and others met with Greenville County development officials to inspect the property and discuss opportunities.
Rallis said the church is located in a flood channel, which limits his options under federal law with the structure. Regulations prevent him from investing more than 50 percent of the structure’s value, and the church is in a state of disrepair from delayed maintenance.
The tour was meant to discuss “how to get around the housing units,” Rallis said. Typically, he said, an investor’s most important consideration in real estate is determining the highest and best use to maximize returns.
“We’re actively trying to see what we can do to not do the multi-units,” Rallis said. “Where I see value isn’t just in a dollar. It’s in the hearts and minds and souls of others – young, old or whatever.”
No matter what happens to the building or property, what emerges will be a business and not a traditional community center supported with public funds, Rallis said. The idea is to find a sustainable outlet to promote education and employment opportunities. After meeting with county authorities, Fant said the group was dejected and expected Rallis to explain why ideas wouldn’t work. Instead, Fant said he encourages more ideas.
“He could have just thrown his hands up and said, ‘The hell with everything,'” Fant said. “But he didn’t say that.”
Letisha Miles, a lifelong community resident, said she was skeptical before meeting Rallis and sharing ideas. She also accepted that he can do whatever he wants.
“No matter what you do with your property,” she told Rallis, “we’re with you 100 percent.”