CUMBERLAND — Cumberland town officials are dangling financial incentives in front of the congregation of St. John United Church of Christ in hopes of buying time to save the historic church from being knocked down.
Town officials have suggested they might provide the church — whose members say the building in the 11000 block of East Washington Street needs repairs they can’t afford — a monthly stipend for six months to delay demolition of the 101-year-old structure. During that time, town officials would seek a buyer for the building.
At a meeting between the groups Wednesday, church leaders gave town officials two weeks to finalize a financial offer.
Church officials have been trying to sell the site for years. An offer from a Pittsburgh developer fell through earlier this year amid controversy about the company’s plan to raze the building.
Church members plan to vacate the church in early October and move into a temporary location until a new facility can be built. Upon their exit, they say, they will demolish the old church and sell the land, which has been approved for commercial use.
Cumberland officials, with the support of city-county councilman Ben Hunter and Indianapolis officials, are working to save the building. They’d don’t want to see the structure demolished and hope to find a potential buyer to develop it.
During Wednesday’s meeting, conducted at the church, town manager Andrew Klinger proposed an agreement that would have the town provide the church some money each month while the two parties work to find a developer. It would provide the church funding to maintain the structure, which church members say is quickly deteriorating, and buy the town some time to find a developer.
Klinger said another option would be for the town to buy the church.
While the details of such a deal need to be worked out, church officials say they are willing to see what Cumberland has to offer.
Any deal would need to have an expiration date, officials said, and town council president Joe Siefker suggested six months.
The biggest hurdle right now is working as a unified group to sell the land, town officials said.
“When companies come in, they want to see that all the parties are working together,” Siefker said.
But working as a united front might be hard to do.
Many church members said they’re tired of being in limbo and fear an additional six months will make no difference.
“I’m here to tell all of you I am not on board — period,” church member Mary Bippus said. “We were here two months ago, and we heard the exact same rhetoric we are hearing. … You did not bring an offer to the table.”
However, church leaders said they’re willing to hold out a little longer.
“My mind is going to be open,” church board president Karen Nauden said. “They’re going to ask us for some numbers of how much it will take for us to sustain the building, and we’re going to fill in the numbers, and we’ll tell them how long of a contract we want.”