Before razing church, city seeks its title

Before city officials can move forward to use $534,000 in state money to demolish the First Baptist

Before city officials can move forward to use $534,000 in state money to demolish the First Baptist Church, the city has to find the best way to take title to the property.

Though abandoned by its dwindling congregation in 1998, the South Main Street landmark is still technically owned by that church corporation, City Attorney John Clo said Monday.

There is no question that the city can take ownership, he said, but there are several options to achieve that goal — some easier than others.

The options include condemning the massive building as a safety hazard (which it was declared to be in 2002 when bricks began to fall and cracks in the walls were observed), the city could take it under eminent domain proceedings or the remaining members of the defunct church board could simply deed it over. Clo said the last avenue would be the easiest.

But, Theodore Perham, the last church board president, said he has been informed that Fulton County, which now collects taxes in the city, is seeking title under a tax foreclosure. Perham said the property returned to the tax rolls after the congregation was dissolved.

County Attorney Arthur C. Spring could not be reached Monday for comment on the status of the foreclosure.

Clo said the city could have taken title a long time ago, but acquisition made no sense until the state demolition grant made it possible to proceed.

Clo said he is confident the city will own the property in time to demolish the building later this year.

Perham acknowledged that the city has no choice but to demolish the building, but he said he and other former members will be saddened by that event. In 1998, he said, there were only 20 to 25 members left to support the huge structure.

“It was just too big,” he said. He said he is hopeful that the church organ, one of the largest organs known to exist in New York state, can be salvaged. He said the organ was installed about 1905.

Mayor Tim Hughes was ecstatic last month when the grant award was announced. He said the church is in danger of collapsing and causing serious injury.

“Let’s get that thing down and start moving forward,” Hughes said, speculating then that demolition might be possible by the end of the summer.

As part of the city’s grant application, local apartment developers John and Susan Casey proposed building a 45-unit apartment complex on the site.

With asbestos removal, the demolition is estimated to cost about $700,000, city grant consultant Nicholas Zabawsky said last month.

Susan Casey said in a recent interview there is a market for the proposed apartments. She said a proposed three-story complex will cost between $2 million and $3 million. She said she has financing commitments for $2 million.

Categories: Schenectady County

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