CUMBERLAND — An eleventh-hour offer of $20,000 from the town of Cumberland isn’t enough for St. John United Church of Christ leaders to delay their plans to raze the historic building.
Church leaders, who are in the process of vacating the 101-year-old structure in dire need of repair, say they plan to reject the offer. Cumberland town officials had hoped a monetary incentive would give them more time to find a buyer for the church who would revamp the building instead of tearing it down.
A Pittsburgh-based developer recently pulled out of a deal to purchase the land amid controversy about the developer’s plans to raze the structure and build a gas station and convenience store on the land.
Church officials said they are gravely disappointed in the town’s proposal — $20,000 over the course of a year — that also would have given the town the right to refuse an offer on the building should church officials find a buyer whose plans the town didn’t approve. Church leaders estimate the offer is about $40,000 shy of what they would need to keep up with the building’s costs.
Town officials met with the congregation two weeks ago and asked church members to keep an open mind and give town representatives an opportunity to try to save the church at German Church Road and Washington Street in Indianapolis, west of the Hancock County line.
Town officials, who value the property at $1.7 million, promised to present a plan that would allow the town to seek a buyer who would try to develop the site in a way that incorporates the old structure. Church officials are leaving the church in early October and razing it to make the land more attractive to sell. They say the proposal is far from being acceptable and are moving on.
Church leaders looked over the initial offer Monday night and said the deal favors the town without providing enough financial support for the church members to keep up with repairs needed on the building.
“What happened was basically what I thought would happen,” church board president Karen Nauden said. “(The proposal) feels basically a little one-sided.”
The Rev. Jimmy Watson said they combed through the documents and worried the agreement made it too difficult for the church to move forward on its own should leaders find a buyer before the town.
“It just looked sort of like a stall tactic,” Watson said.
Town officials declined to comment on the proposal sent to church officials. Christine Owens, Cumberland planning and development director, said town officials would issue a statement if and when the two sides reached an agreement.
Church officials said the $20,000 offered by Cumberland officials in the option agreement is laughable, noting that it would take at least $4,000 to $5,000 a month to maintain the church.
Church officials said they have decided to no longer work directly with town officials and plan to turn any further negotiations over to a real estate agent, who is actively trying to sell church property.
“I think we’ll have him come up with some type of counterproposal that we know they won’t agree to,” Watson said.
Meanwhile, church officials said they will hold their final service in the building Oct. 4 before moving to a temporary facility at the northwest corner of Carroll Road and Prospect Street.