Local News

Economics, Storefront Churches At 'Cross'-Roads In Wilson

Posted May 18, 2004 9:03 a.m. EDT

— City leaders in Wilson say they are pumping money and energy into their downtown. There is just one thing slowing them down -- storefront churches.

Downtown Wilson offers a number of businesses including offices, restaurants and bars. However, there are 19 storefront churches in downtown Wilson, and on weekdays, they are usually closed.

City leaders claim that does nothing to bring new life downtown.

"Really, there's not much footpath work as far as people coming in and out of the downtown area when the churches are closed during the week," said Eileen Watkins of the Downtown Development Corp.

The Wilson Downtown Development Corp. wants the City Council to impose a 1-year moratorium on new, smaller storefront churches. City leaders say it is not a religious issue but an economic one.

"We want activities downtown," Watkins said.

Watkins said she has seen cases where the storefront church are taking up valuable retail space, but religious leaders feel differently. When asked whether he feels he is turning people away, Elijah Forte, founder of Zion Christian Worship Center, says he does not feel that way.

"I can understand the city's point of view," Forte said. "I know we're not planning to stay here forever."

Wilson has recently invested $25 million to improving downtown. The proposal to put a moratorium on some new storefront churches could go before the Wilson City Council in the next few weeks.