Old church move up in the air

The fate of the former Cumberland Presbyterian Church came up at a city council work session Monday. The outcome was inconclusive.

Three members of the Albany City Council say they don't want tax money spent on moving the former Cumberland Presbyterian Church and restoring it as a community center. That leaves the fate of this project up in the air or, more to the point, up to potential donors.

A work group assembled by Mayor Sharon Konopa has been discussing a move of the city-owned building. The group wants to move it two-tenths of a mile from Santiam Road and Main Street to a vacant city-owned parcel at Santiam Road and Pine Street. The chore of working out details fell to Ed Hodney, director of parks and recreation.

On Monday Hodney showed the council drawings by architect Bill Ryals, a member of the work group who had volunteered to illustrate how the old church might fit on the site. Hodney also said he's been talking with two builders willing to help with the foundation. The idea is that the city would pay to have the building moved and secured on a foundation, which might run about $200,000. Then the city would seek private donations and grants to finish the conversion to a community center and related facilities, the final cost of which has not been discussed.

There ensued a lively discussion, during which Councilors Bill Coburn, Rich Kellum and Mike Sykes spoke against using tax money for the project. Sykes had expressed himself along the same lines all along as a member of the mayor's work group.

There was mention of putting the question up to voters. "If a community center is needed and the community wants it, it can say so," Kellum said. "I'm for moving it but not for the taxpayers paying for it."

The mayor argued for city support of the move, probably with money from CARA, the downtown urban renewal district. Once the building is moved and people can see what it might be, she expects people will be ready to contribute to complete the project. How, she wondered, can Albany "continue to be a vibrant community" if the council is not willing to back projects like this.

CARA funding would have to be approved by the Albany Revitalization Agency, which is the city council. If the three stick with their position of no tax money and there's a 3-3 tie, the mayor could break it. So it would come down to how Councilwoman Bessie Johnson, who was absent Monday, votes when the funding issue comes up.

Hodney didn't get clear directions of what if anything to do next. He said he'll keep "cautiously exploring" what might be done. (hh)

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