From house of ill repute to house of God

When members of the Athens Link Fellowship went through their newly-purchased Baxter Street building, certain details stood out.

There are the many small rooms, one of which had a waterbed (that was near the shower). Cameras were throughout, as were sofas and couches. One room, tucked away in the corner, was simply known as the dungeon.

“I didn’t want to go in there,” John Gaultney said.

What was once the location of adult-entertainment club Fantasy World became the site of a transformation on Sunday, as church members brought rollers, ladders and white paint to turn the bright pink building into a canvas of white. Athens Link Fellowship purchased both Fantasy World, at 1050 Baxter Street, and the building across the street (1051 Baxter Street, which used to be Chelsea’s Gentleman’s Club) as the new home for their growing church.

“We’ve been a home church since 2010 and we wanted to move out of the house because we were getting overgrown with 55 to 60 people,” said Gaultney, who is co-pastor of Athens Link Fellowship with his wife Cindy. “We needed space and we primarily wanted to get closer into the Athens community … We felt like Baxter Street is a street that’s going to come back and we wanted to be part of that and we get to be on both sides of the street.”

Both buildings were owned by Atlanta businessman Emanuel Isaacs, who purchased them a decade ago. The building at 1051 has been up for sale for three years, and in July, Athens Link made and offer. “When we put a contract on that building we realized he owned this building as well and so we made an offer on it,” Gaultney said.

In August, the buildings were theirs.

Dubbing the creation of their new home as Project 1050, Gaultney said the goal was to make the site at 1051 the main church and the building once housing Fantasy World as a community center open to the public. But that will take some time.

“We need to gut out the inside, there are a lot of small rooms but we’re going to go in and open up the space,” Gaultney said. “The inside wasn’t everything people thought it would be.”

During its time in Athens, Fantasy World had its share of troubles. In 2010, Athens-Clarke County police raided the business and charged the manager with running a brothel, according to an Athens Banner-Herald story. There were arrests for prostitution and rape, drug possession as well as reports of stabbings and passing counterfeit bills. The business promoted itself as a modeling business where customers watched women model lingerie in private rooms.

“It’s a pink building that attracts attention,” Gaultney said. “When I first learned of the history here, I thought ‘Wow’.”

But that building is no more, with a new one in its place seeking to bring in a new clientele.

“Athens is a diverse community and we need to accept that,” Gaultney said. “We want to bring unity into that diversity.”

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