South Dallas Neighbors Question North Dallas Megachurch Expansion

Watermark Church said in a statement it's humbled by opportunity to serve South Dallas

North Dallas megachurch Watermark has purchased an abandoned South Dallas Middle School for a ministry expansion. Some neighbors said Wednesday they felt ignored with a lack of information from Watermark.

The Pearl C. Anderson Middle School opened off S. 2nd Avenue in 1963 and closed in 2012.

Neighbors said the vacant school was just a nuisance the past seven years.

"It was a mess over there for a while," Lovis Salter said.

He lives across a side street from the school in a home he built before the school opened.

Salter said he's noticed an improvement the past few weeks with lights and mowing at the campus.

"They're doing good over there. It's looking a whole lot better than what it was," Salter said.

He did not know it was Watermark Church that began to renovate the building.

The North Dallas church, with satellite campuses in Fort Worth, Plano and Frisco, paid the Dallas Independent School District $211,000 for the building and land around it.

Pastors with other churches in the South Dallas area said they've had no previous contact with Watermark.

"We've been here for 110 years. They could have if they wanted to," Rev. Donald Parish Sr. said.

For the past 28 years, Parish has served as lead Pastor of True Lee Missionary Baptist Church.

What Parish said the "stealth circumstances" of this expansion made him question Watermark's motive.

"It's a good thing to do a good thing, but it's better if you do it with the people you're trying to do it for than to come in and do it for them," Parish said. "Too many times that's happened in our community, people have given us what they thought we needed or what they wanted us to have, as opposed to sitting down and saying, 'OK, what can we do to help?'"

Top Watermark officials were unavailable for an interview with NBC 5 Wednesday, but spokeswoman Caitlin Van Wagoner e-mailed a statement that said the church has already spoken with people in the South Dallas community, intended to meet with many more and had not finalized plans for the Anderson Campus.

“We are humbled by the opportunity before us to continue to serve our city. Prayerfully, we are working to renovate the Pearl C. Anderson property in South Dallas to serve the community through a church that offers midweek services for community care and development. Since acquiring the property just a few weeks ago, our priority has been to meet with local leaders, residents, and organizations to listen and further understand what services will be most helpful to the community. While these first weeks have been focused on building upon existing relationships, we look forward to meeting with and learning from new friends and partners in South Dallas over the coming months. We have delayed sharing information about this property with our church members so that these conversations can help shape our heart, vision, and initial planning. While the exact mix is still being determined, potential community services could include health care, youth development, job placement and vocational training, financial literacy, and recovery.

We've had the privilege of serving in South Dallas for years – both through faithful Watermark members and ministry partners working in the community. We are grateful for this opportunity to be able to deepen our friendships, partnerships, and work in the city that we love. Over the coming months, we will continue the cleanup of the building and meetings with community members. Our prayer is that the future of the Pearl C. Anderson property will continue to honor its namesake, the history of the school, and the name of Christ by serving as a place of care and hope.”

Parish said now is the time for Watermark to reach out.

"We know the community. They've got to come in and learn the community," he said. "Let's get some community involvement, community input. You have the resources. We have the experience. Let's see if we can't work together."

Immediate neighbors at the former school building were encouraged that the building would be occupied.

Neighbor James McNeil said kids have been running through the place and jumping from windows.

"I think it's a nice place for the church, you know," McNeil said.

Salter said this version of community service is better than the homeless shelter he heard mentioned once before.

He said there is room for parking to avoid clogging neighborhood streets.

"It's got plenty of parking places, you know, all in the back and everything, that it won't have the streets or nothing all blocked up or anything, so I don't see anything would be too wrong with it," Salter said.

Communities Foundation of Texas
Pearl C. Anderson

The Watermark statement said the future of the property would honor the history of the school and it's namesake, Pearl C. Anderson.

She was an African American grocery store owner and philanthropist who supported education. Anderson died in 1990.

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