Lost in the political drama flooding Mayor Dwight Jones’ plans to build a $134.6 million city jail is a question of geography: Why is Jones’ church, First Baptist Church of South Richmond, building a new sanctuary in Chesterfield County?
The unfurling controversy about the mayor’s selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction Co. to build the new jail includes debate over minority participation and fairness of the procurement process. And last week Style Weekly learned that the father of the jail project’s minority contractor, Thomas K. “Tommy” Davis, is listed as the general contractor of the church project on at least one county planning document.
Construction on the church, off Ironbridge Road in Chesterfield, was scheduled to begin in January, according to county planning records. Site plans weren’t submitted to the county until April 14, however, and those plans have yet to be approved.
Neither the mayor nor his son, Derik Jones, also a pastor at the church, would comment on the Chesterfield sanctuary last week. On the church’s website, the Ironbridge facility is described as a 2,000-seat expansion of the church off Hull Street in Manchester. According to site plans, the new church would have a 975-seat sanctuary.
While the question of who is building the church remains the bigger question is why not build in the city? During his campaign for mayor in 2008, Jones talked up the role his church, and its nonprofit development arm, the Imani Intergenerational Community Development Corp., had played in redeveloping a blighted section of Manchester.
“I am the only candidate that is running that has contributed to the economic development in the city by developing apartments and commercial space in the Hull Street corridor,” Jones said in April 2008, referring to Imani’s efforts.
Councilman Marty Jewell says the church’s expansion into Chesterfield raises a dilemma of sorts for Jones.
“It’s counterintuitive to all the economic development that we hear him talk about in the city,” Jewell says. “A church is an amenity that people look for when people move into a neighborhood to underscore that neighborhood’s stability.”
Former City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin says there may be logical reason for expanding into Chesterfield, but the mayor needs to explain the decision.
“One of the problems with the city is the tremendous amount of flight out to the [counties],” El-Amin says. “He’s talked about being a booster for the city, and that’s sort of a contradiction on the surface.”
Since taking office, Jones repeatedly has refused to discuss church-related matters. In an interview with Style in early February, Jones concurred that he was no longer the church’s primary pastor. But he declined to explain any further.
A sign posted on the Chesterfield site calls Jones the church’s senior pastor, above his son, Derik Jones, who is listed as First Baptist’s pastor.
El-Amin says he doesn’t buy it. “I’m not at all impressed with the statement that he is no longer is in charge,” El-Amin says. “If you believe that then you believe in the tooth fairy.”