INDIANAPOLIS — The fate of a local historic building lies with a local crowdfunding campaign.
The 102-year-old St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland will be torn down as early as June 1 if $75,000 isn’t raised by May 4, Cumberland town officials announced Monday.
The historic building, located at the intersection of German Church Road and Washington Street, has been the center of controversy for years as church leaders try to sell the deteriorating structure they say the congregation can’t afford while town officials fight to protect the historic structure they believe still has purpose.
As church leaders look toward demolition day — the congregation moved out of the building in October 2015 — town officials are scrambling to raise funds and looking to the public for help.
Town officials have partnered with Indiana Landmarks, which advocates for the preservation of historic structures, to start a crowdfunding campaign they say could buy them more time to secure a buyer who can renovate the property.
Indiana Landmarks has pledged $25,000 to the project, and private donors committed another $12,000 before the campaign was launched, according to a news release.
That leaves $38,000 that must be raised by next week, officials said.
Now, officials hope the community will rally to help save the building; they’re steering supporters toward the Indiana Landmarks’ website, indianalandmarks.org, to donate to the fundraiser.
Church leaders have said demolishing the building will make the land more attractive to sell, but they have been willing to work with town officials to find a buyer for the building. So far, no deals have panned out.
In September, Indianapolis-based TWG Development LLC agreed to purchase the building and convert it into affordable senior housing units — which town leaders hoped was the end of a years-long battle over whether to demolish the deteriorating century-old structure.
The deal hinged on federal tax credits the project wasn’t awarded this year. The project was put on a wait list for the funds, which could become available as early as October, but church officials say they need money now to build their new home.
The $75,000 would cover the church’s expenses through the fall, when TWG expects to hear whether it’s been awarded the federal dollars, said Mark Dollase, a vice president of Indiana Historic Landmarks.
“No one wants to see an important landmark like that knocked down,” Dollase said.
The senior housing deal was the second potential development pitched for the land in recent years.
In 2015, 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.
But town officials remain hopeful.
Once the funds have been raised, “it will … serve as a sign of how (the) town came together to help make something great happen,” Cumberland Town Manager April Fisher said in a news release.
Town leaders have pointed to the church’s long history in the community while defending the structure.
Church members built the first of three churches on the site in 1855, serving a mostly German congregation whose members farmed on the land surrounding the building. The second church was built in 1866 and remained as the worship center until the current church was built in 1914.
Today, the building needs about $750,000 in repairs the aging and dwindling congregation can’t afford.
Church leaders say they have no choice but to move on.
The congregation in October held its last service in the historic building; it continues to meet at a temporary site, the Muesing Activity Center at Prospect Street and Carroll Road, until funds can be raised to build a new church.
Church board member Richard Suiter said church members are willing to hold off on demolishing the building, but they need financial help to pay the bills in the meantime.
Stained-glass windows have already been packed away and the church organ moved. The church has also asked for bids from construction companies interested in demolishing the building, he said.
Indiana Landmarks officials say even if the building is saved now, it eventually needs to be named a historic site to prevent it from being razed in the future.
Indiana Landmarks will continue to work toward that goal with whoever purchases the site, Dollase said.
“It has a collective meaning to everyone,” he said. “It’s Indiana history.”
The town of Cumberland and Indiana Landmarks have teamed up to raise $75,000 needed to prevent the historic St. John United Church of Christ building in Cumberland from being demolished.
To contribute to the project, visit IndianaLandmarks.org/donate and write “save German Church” in the comment field.