No buyer yet for his­toric down­town church

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS - LOUIS PIN

The old Cen­tral United Church in down­town Sar­nia is still with­out a buyer months after the con­gre­ga­tion agreed to sell the build­ing, at a cost to be de­ter­mined.

The good news for the church: they are in no rush to sell the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, 136-year-old build­ing, which re­quires more than $1 mil­lion in re­pairs. In the mean­time, the con­gre­ga­tion is look­ing for a de­vel­oper in­ter­ested in con­vert­ing the land into af­ford­able liv­ing space — with a small spot for the re­main­ing con­gre­ga­tion, far fewer than they were 50 years ago.

The 0.66-hectare prop­erty it­self, on the cor­ner of Ge­orge and Brock streets, is lo­cated near Sar­nia’s down­town core.

“It’s hard to say,” Kevin Thomp­son, an ad­viser with CK De­vel­op­ment Part­ners, said when asked how long he ex­pected the list­ing to re­main open. “We’re go­ing through a vet­ting process. It’s hard to find the right in­di­vid­ual with the right vi­sion, a shared vi­sion. It’s go­ing to take a while.”

The move re­flects a chang­ing land­scape for the United Church of Canada. With shrink­ing pop­u­la­tions, once-boom­ing down­town churches no longer house largee­nough con­gre­ga­tions to stay fi­nan­cially vi­able.

No­table long-stand­ing struc­tures, like the Hy­att Av­enue United Church in Lon­don and the Trin­ity United Church in Kingston, have been sold. Oth­ers have been trans­formed to house dif­fer­ent crowds, like the mod­ern-day Princess Ave Play­house in St. Thomas.

At Sar­nia’s High Park United Church on Brench­ley Street, the wheels are in mo­tion to turn the ex­ist­ing build­ing into an af­ford­able liv­ing space. The Cen­tral United sit­u­a­tion is more com­pli­cated as near-cost-pro­hib­i­tive re­pairs are needed on the cur­rent build­ing.

“These church con­gre­ga­tions are hav­ing to down­size, rein­vent them­selves,” Thomp­son said. “It’s been a two-year process of soul search­ing, fig­ur­ing out what the best op­tions are.”

Find­ing a de­vel­oper in­ter­ested in build­ing af­ford­able hous­ing on the prop­erty is still a pri­or­ity for the con­gre­ga­tion, Thomp­son said. [email protected]­

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