Buyer may redeem church

Building previously declared blight by commission

A derelict church building that the city has been seeking to demolish may have found salvation.

The former Christ Reformed Church at 12th Avenue and 15th Street, which the city Planning Commission declared blighted in November, is under a pending sale agreement with a buyer who plans to renovate it, according to information that became available Wednesday at a meeting of City Council.

At the meeting, Robert Clapper, president of Blair County Heritage, an organization dedicated to preserving historic buildings, had just finished declaring his group’s intention to obtain the building on behalf of Penn State University for use as a dormitory and recreational center when Mayor Matt Pacifico told him the building had been sold — to a party that also hoped to save it.

Pacifico didn’t identify the party, but after the meeting, the Mirror spoke to the potential buyer, who asked not to be named but who clarified that there’s a sales agreement that hasn’t been signed and that the plan is rehabilitation.

“That’s interesting,” Clapper said, after hearing Pacifico. “It’s something Penn State lost.”

The Planning Commission had declared the church — a brownstone near the police station — blighted so the city could use Community Development Block Grant funds to tear it down, although it would have needed an engineer to show it’s structurally unsound in order to obtain permission from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to raze it because it’s a contributing structure for the downtown historic district.

The church is owned by the Coptic Orthodox Church, which began renovations several years ago so it could become a convent and social center, but the church suspended the work for reasons unknown to the city.

The building was reroofed, but leaks remained. Pictures shown at a commission meeting showed mounds of plaster on the floors and some cracks in big beams in the basement.

The city’s director of Codes and Inspections said recently she’d like to see the building saved, but that isn’t the city’s official position, without a clear resolution on ownership or on ownership’s intention for the building, said City Manager Marla Marcinko Wednesday.

Pacifico and Councilman Erik Cagle said they’d rather see the building renovated than razed.

After the meeting, Clapper said he’s skeptical about the potential buyer’s intentions, although he said that if the potential buyer plans restore the building for the use of Penn State, he’d back that plan “100 percent.”

Clapper planned to ask City Council to seize the building by eminent domain and turn it over for $1 to his organization, which could have paid for renovations with money from the city’s CDBG fund, from Penn State alumni, grants from the state, including the PHMC — coupled with in-kind assistance from local organizations, he said after the meeting.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.