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Deal offers new future for church

An agreement inked last week is aimed at restoring a historic Fairport landmark church and using it as a year-round performing arts venue.

The Fairport Perinton Partnership for a Better Community has reached an agreement with trustees of the Fairport First Baptist Church.

Under the agreement, the nonprofit partnership is to assume ownership of the church’s property on the northwest corner of Main Street and Church Street.

The agency also will provide the sanctuary to the congregation for its Sunday worship service and other religious services as needed, in addition to using it as an arts and entertainment facility, officials said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Scott Winner, the partnership’s executive director.

The red brick church with a towering steeple was built in 1876 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designated a Fairport village landmark in late 2008.

In 2006, a national drugstore chain attempted to buy the church’s property, but was met with a severe adverse reaction from the local community.  

Discussions regarding the transfer of ownership between church leaders and the partnership began in September 2014. The 12,000-square-foot, two-story structure includes a sanctuary that accommodates up to 475 patrons.

Robert Dilger, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said the agreement takes the financial pressure off the small congregation while, at the same time, preserves its ability to worship there.

The agency has 18 months to seek funding sources and determine if the project can proceed, Winner said.

“The goal is to make it self-sustainable and economically viable,” he said.

Cost estimates are not yet available, but an engineering study done by Bero Architecture PLLC several years ago showed at least $1.5 million in deferred maintenance costs.

The agency has put out requests for proposals for costs related to the project and is pursuing grant options to help cover the costs.

Major modification of the lower floor is anticipated to accommodate offices and restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act along with rehearsal and small group performance space, Winner said.

Discussions have been held with various prospective performing-arts tenants for the lower floor of the church, which would provide baseline income to help put the property on better financial footing, he said. An announcement regarding an anchor tenant for the facility is pending.

A performing arts venue could be a viable choice, Winner said, noting a local performing arts organization has staged several performances in the church’s sanctuary, and other arts-related functions have been held there as well.

With minor modifications, the sanctuary could become a venue that attracts local, regional and national performing groups, he added.

Winner believes the church redevelopment could serve as a catalyst for growth around Fairport’s four corners, which Winner referred to as the southern gateway to the village.

Fairport Brewing Co. LLC is already nearby and, next door to the church, JB Sterling Co. is redeveloping a site into a mixed-use four-story building. It will house commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the upper levels, including a couple of penthouse-style apartments on the upper floor.

The redevelopment idea for the church has been successful in other places, Winner said.

The Center for the Arts of Homer Inc., in Cortland County, for example, is a 400-seat theater in a former church that screens films, draws international performers and hosts a community theater program and an art gallery.

Another is the Rochester Lyric Opera Inc.’s purchase of the former First Church of Christ on Rochester’s East Avenue.

“We’re confident the asset we have here could be converted successfully,” Winner said.

7/29/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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