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Pastor's vision: High school dropout program at former North End temple

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The former Temple Beth El on Detroit's North End The former Temple Beth El on Detroit's North End
DETROIT (WJBK) -

Plenty of people drive past Temple Beth El's former home without giving it a second look, but Rev. Jim Holley of the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church says the building has huge potential and can make a big impact on Detroit's North End.

Built in 1922 by Albert Kahn, the building has more than 30,000 square feet of space over five floors. There are dozens of classrooms and two massive auditoriums with more than 2,000 seats.

As the community changed, the congregation moved and the building fell on hard times, but its beauty isn't far beneath the surface. Even before he stepped inside, Holley knew this place was something special.

"It's so imposing, and it seems like [sometimes it's] out of place for the community and yet not," the reverend said.

The Historic Little Rock Baptist Church bought the former temple in 2006. Holley wants to turn the smaller auditorium into a community theatre for live shows and even movies. The larger auditorium would host major performances.

"What Fox is doing to the entertainment world downtown ... we feel like we could do it here in a small way," he said.

The building would also be home to a program for high school dropouts, something communities all over Detroit desperately need.

"A lot of kids, they can't football their way out of poverty. They can't basketball their way out," Holley said. "But they can educate their way out."

"I felt like this would be a perfect place for high school dropouts, and once I worked on that, then all at once DPS decided not to do any more charter schools. ... It left me in a real bad situation."

"I've got to find a way to make this happen because I think that it could be a wonderful catalyst for the community."

Before his vision becomes a reality, the building needs a new roof and a little more than a million dollars worth of work. However, the reverend has never met a challenge too big to overcome, and this one is no different.

"God is good, and people are good. This city's going to bounce back. This is the time to really get going with it because it's coming back, and I feel like North End is going to be part of it," Holley said.

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