Section: CAPITAL REGION Page: B7 Date: Friday, June 6, 2003
CITY HANDS OVER CONTROL OF CHURCHBRIAN NEARING Staff writer
Caption: TOM LaPOINT/TIMES UNION MAYOR JERRY JENNINGS speaks at the ceremony at St. Joseph's Church.
The city gave control of a historic, crumbling Arbor Hill church Thursday to a group that must raise $300,000 just to keep the building intact and ready to survive another Albany winter. The new owners believe they can save St. Joseph's Church, which the city seized as unsafe from its previous owner, and find new life for it, said Elizabeth Griffin, director of the Historic Albany Foundation.
Mayor Jerry Jennings signed over the deed for the property to the not-for-profit foundation in a ceremony Thursday in front of the neo-Gothic church, saying the city also believes the group can do what its previous owner did not. The city is still in a court fight with St. Joseph's former owner, Lark Street restaurateur Elda Abate, who is challenging the city's seizure of the vacant church five months ago and subsequent $1 purchase offer. Griffin said it will cost about $600,000 to shore up the 138-year-old church and to repair its leaking roof. A $300,000 state grant for the work announced by state Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro must be matched, so the foundation is beginning a fund-raising campaign, Griffin said. An anonymous donor kicked in $20,000 to start, which was followed by $1,000 each from the Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League and Historic Albany Foundation President Colleen Ryan, Griffin said. Donor forms will be available online at http://www.historic-albany.org, she said.
Once the building is stabilized, it likely will cost another $5.5 million to repair and restore it for a still undetermined use, she added. The foundation likely will seek other state and private aid for that work. Local businessman Matthew Bender IV heads a committee that will hold a series of public meetings seeking ideas for the church, Griffin said. She said the foundation wants any new use to preserve the soaring space inside the church, which runs more than 100 feet from the floor to the peak of the ceiling. Abate is pursuing a court fight against the city over the church, and wants either to get ownership back or be paid more, said her attorney, Randall Kehoe. The city seized the church through eminent domain in January after determining parts of the building were in danger of falling down. The city invested nearly $250,000 in emergency repairs.
Abate had paid $1 for the church to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, which deconsecrated the church in 2000. She initially had wanted to put a banquet hall or a nightclub in the church, but both of those plans encouraged stiff neighborhood opposition.