Redevelopment deal could save historic Cumberland church

CUMBERLAND — More than a year after construction plans called for a historic church in Cumberland to be torn down, a new developer has agreed to purchase the property and convert the land into senior housing while while preserving the 101-year-old structure.

TWG Development LLC, along with the town of Cumberland and the city of Indianapolis, on Wednesday announced the $1.5 million deal, which officials say is contingent upon the awarding of affordable housing tax credits for the project.

Recipients of the next round of federal credits are scheduled to be announced in February.

Cumberland officials see the agreement to preserve the St. John United Church of Christ, located at the intersection of German Church Road and Washington Street, as a great community effort where all sides win, town manager April Fisher said.

“St. John is something people identify with Cumberland, and we wanted to keep that,” Fisher said. “It’s a positive project everyone is behind.”

The agreement could end months of uncertainty surrounding the future of the historic church structure. Last year, Pennsylvania-based developer Giant Eagle announced plans to raze the building to make way for a gas station. Amid protests from area residents, the developer later backed out.

Now, TWG plans to build 60 housing units on the northern portion of the property, preserving the old church for another development, company officials said.

Company officials say they are in preliminary talks with officials from another church that is considering using the building. There also are thoughts of converting the old church into a senior daycare center, a restaurant or grocery store, they said.

The company hopes to finalize plans for the church by the first of November.

The decision to sell the land to a developer who wanted to preserve the old church was something all sides wanted, as did officials from Indiana Landmarks – America’s largest private statewide historic preservation organization.

Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services, was thrilled to hear the church would not be razed for new development.

“We’ve been working for years to convince the congregation and community the historic building could be reused,” Dollase said.

For more than a century, the land in question has been the site of the Tudor Gothic Revival-style church, which once was known as Deutsche Evangelische St. Johannes Kirche. It opened in 1855, initially serving German immigrants who farmed the surrounding area. That structure was replaced later that century, and the current building opened in 1914.

Amid dwindling membership, the congregation in October conducted its last service in the church. Its remaining members are meeting at a temporary site, the Muesing Activity Center at Prospect Street and Carroll Road, until funds can be raised to build a new and smaller church.

Officials had said they would likely demolish the building to make the property more attractive to sell, while Cumberland officials asked church officials to wait and see if there was some way a developer could preserve the building.

The city of Indianapolis and the town of Cumberland said they both will provide financial incentives to support the project.

TWG developers plan to pay an estimated $1.5 million for the church and five acres of land. The finalized project is estimated to be a $10 million investment for the area, officials said.

The IBJ contributed to this report.

Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or