Local realty agencies list houses of worship
Former churches might remain a house of worship or be adapted to a new use.
By LINDA M. LINONIS
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Marketing and selling a former place of worship presents various challenges and concerns.
Steve Platz of Steve Platz Realty in Poland said that "the church might want to see the property used as another church." But, he added, most often the church is "realistic that it may be converted to another use."
"The goal is to help dispose of the asset," he said. He noted it would be "stumbling block" if the seller were adamant about the church role. He pointed out "an adaptive reworking of the property" is usually the outcome.
Some potential owners may be attracted to the building because of its design and other style elements. "Most buyers are open to what it could be," he said.
"But those same things might discourage someone else," he said of architectural components. For example, he said, one person might see pews "as a valuable asset" while someone else would not.
Platz said he recently sold a former church property on Kirk Road in Austintown that was used as a business/warehouse and now will be converted to a beauty salon. The building had a revival as another church for two years, he noted, until its mission changed.
Another property, the former Austintown Church of Christ, is located in a residential setting on Fitzgerald Avenue in Austintown.
"A family started it in the late 1960s, and it was there until 2005," he said of its history. It would lend itself to reverting to a residence, and that use would fit nicely into the neighborhood, he noted.
A while ago, Platz said, he handled a former church in the Cortland area that was used as a court for a time. "It worked out great for the court ... the high ceilings. ... The former altar area was the judge's bench," he recollected.
The Rev. George Gage, pastor of St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church, 7782 Glenwood Ave., Boardman, also served as pastor at St. John the Baptist Romanian Catholic Church in Hermitage, Pa., whose sale is pending.
"From a legal point of view, the sale is under the bishop," Father Gage said, referring to the Most Rev. John Michael Botean, bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton.
The church, under the Romanian Catholic Diocese of St. George, closed in May 2005 after membership had dropped to just five people.
"Just as a church is consecrated, now the sacred items must be taken away," Father Gage said.
In his diocese, Father Gage said it was a concern how the former church building would be used. "The idea of turning it into a bar would be considered disrespectful," he said. The bishop, he said, would want to know the intentions of a potential buyer. Bells and stained glass remain at St. John's, Father Gage said, but pews were removed and installed at St. Mary's.
No churches have been sold in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown according to the recollection of Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor, who has been affiliated with the diocese for some 30 years. "That's never happened here but it's not to say it couldn't," she said. Some closed Catholic schools have been leased to other entities.
Yuhasz said that if a church in the diocese did close, it would be up to the bishop to decide what would happen.
Mahoning Avenue center
Landmark Realty in Austintown is selling the 18,584-square foot Calvin Center on Mahoning Avenue, Youngstown, which is owned by the Hungarian Presbyterian Church next door. Shirley Kohuth, church secretary, said the decision to sell was based on the fact that the "church isn't using the building but it costs to maintain it."
The for-sale sign notes a chapel, gym, stage area and catering kitchen in the center. Jim Ambrosio, the real estate agent handling the property, said he has taken a proactive approach marketing the first church property he has ever listed. "Potentially, it has [multiple] uses," he said, noting he sent fliers to nonprofit organizations, health groups and churches. "I've shown it to other denominations," he said, but financing was an issue.
Ambrosio said the center has been on the market for about a year, and he's shown it 25 to 30 times. "So far there's been a lot of reaction to it but no sale," he said. "It is in a commercial location and could have a variety of uses -- even retail."
The Rev. Alan James, executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, said the diocese recently sold a church in Fostoria that closed because of "dwindling membership." The diocese has not yet dealt with St. Rocco's Episcopal Church in Liberty, which closed Dec. 31. A celebration of ministry service is planned Sunday.
The Rev. Mr. James explained that such properties revert back to the diocese, and trustees handle the disposition. "The church property in Fostoria was bought by a funeral home next door," he said. "It's my understanding the funeral home bought it for the parking lot, but I wouldn't be surprised if the church was used for services."
But, he noted, before a closed church would be put up for sale, a deconsecration service would take place. "Liturgical elements would be removed and kept by the diocese," he said, and noted they might be used at another church. Other items would be evaluated according to historical or secular value.
Remaining a church
Stephanie Bozin, owner of S.T. Bozin and Company Realtors, Liberty, recently sold the former Faith Chapel Free Methodist Church, next to Ohio State Peniteniary on state Route 616 in Youngstown. She also lists the former St. John's Baptist Temple on Fifth Avenue, Youngstown.
Bozin said the former Methodist church was on the market about 11/2 years. It will remain a house of worship, she said. "There was a lot of interest -- by different denominations and new congregations. But funding was a stumbling block," she said.
The property covers about 31/2 acres and the 3,000-square-foot building has a sanctuary, fellowship hall, four classrooms and kitchenette. "It could have been turned into professional offices," Bozin said, noting that a dentist could have adapted the space.
Bozin described the former Baptist church as "one of the old Fifth Avenue mansions."
The structure, zoned multifamily use, has three floors. "It could be turned into apartments or a bed and breakfast," Bonin said. "Its access to downtown and location in a historic district are assets," she added.
Converting the building to another use would require a financial investment and city government approval, she said.