Indianapolis company again seeks tax break for Cumberland church project

CUMBERLAND – An Indianapolis developer has reapplied for tax credits to help finance a project involving a historic church in Cumberland that the owner had threatened to demolish.

TWG Development LLC is among 50 developers who have submitted applications to the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority seeking a total of $39 million in federal assistance for various projects.

TWG again is seeking the incentives to lower the cost of the potential redevelopment of the St. John United Church of Christ building and land, at the intersection of German Church Road and Washington Street, the Indianapolis Business Journal reports.

The federal credits are awarded annually to developers to incentivize private investment in affordable housing. Investors buy the credits, generating revenue to fund projects.

The program is highly competitive. Out of 62 proposals submitted in Indiana last year, only 16 were chosen to receive the credits. Projects chosen to receive the credits typically are announced in February.

St. John United Church of Christ and its 102-year-old structure have been the center of controversy for years as church leaders try to sell the deteriorating building they say the congregation can’t afford to maintain. But state and Cumberland town officials have fought to protect the historic structure they believe still has purpose.

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 2015 conducted its last service in the church. Its remaining members are now working to build a new and smaller church building.

TWG agreed in September 2016 to purchase the building and land. The deal, however, was contingent upon the awarding of the tax credits for the project.

TWG’s $10.1 million proposal to convert the church into a 60-unit senior housing complex wasn’t among the 16 chosen for credits last year. Still, TWG has kept the property under contract and has maintained site control while it again awaits another round of selections.

But in the meantime, TWG has changed its plans for the site. The project still calls for 60 units of senior housing, not in the church building but to be constructed on the north end of the property, said Jonathan Ehlke, TWG’s development director, the IBJ reports.

TWG, in turn, plans to sell the church for $1 to a nonprofit that he declined to name, which will convert the building into its headquarters.

“A requirement of the sale is that the church be renovated, and the exterior of the building remains unchanged,” Ehlke said in an email, the IBJ reports.

The total development cost of $10.2 million does not include renovation work on the church, he said. TWG is seeking $886,849 in affordable tax credits, according to information posted on the state housing authority’s website.

The Indianapolis Business Journal contributed to this report.