The antiques dealer whose company removed the stained-glass windows from the Bleecker Square Church in February said he is committed to raising money to save the circa-1868 building from demolition.
Robert Meringolo said he will be visiting Gloversville in the near future to explore fundraising options. He said he will form a “Preserve Our United Methodist Church Committee” to conduct the campaign.
The announcement from Meringolo follows a decision by city officials to proceed with a July 26 trial in City Court to decide the merits of five zoning code violations issued against the building’s owner for removal of the windows and steeple clocks. The violations of the city’s historic district zoning code carry fines of up to $50 per day for each ticket.
The trial was adjourned four times since March as officials of the Church of God of Prophecy, a Tennessee denomination with an office in Albany, tried to negotiate a settlement that would include replacement of the stained-glass windows with clear pane glass.
But City Attorney Anthony Casale said specific details were not submitted to the city by last Friday’s deadline.
“I think the ship has sailed,” Casale said earlier this week on the possibility of negotiations continuing.
Casale said he will ask the court to levy “substantial fines. It’s totally warranted under the circumstances,” he said.
Meringolo, who has been the spokesman for the church since the case began, said in an email this week that he and church officials “are both puzzled by this sledgehammer approach” by the city.
“It takes time to get the funds, agree on design and make the windows,” Meringolo said.
In a subsequent email and letter to the editor of a local newspaper, Meringolo said church officials “would love to enter into a partnership with the city to make it a community center that could have multiple uses, even a center for the arts and a place where the young and elderly could go.”
Meringolo said he is “committed to a long-term effort to preserve the church.”
He cited his work performing benefit auctions for a private school in Albany and the success of 50/50 and basket raffles he has put together for other causes.
Mayor Dayton King said Friday he is skeptical about a fundraising campaign organized by the same people who removed the church windows and clocks.
“He’s not from this area; I’m a little concerned how he happens to be motivated to save this church,” King said of Meringolo, who runs an auction service out of southern Albany County.
Even if Meringolo is sincere, King said, there are questions about how much money can be raised and what the goal for the building would be.
“It is clear,” King said, “the city can’t afford to take on that building. Just to heat and cool it would cost a fortune,” he said.
“We need to remember how that building became vacant,” King said, pointing out it was the Church of God of Prophecy that supported a congregation there and then closed it.
The current owners bought it from the United Methodist denomination about 10 years ago.
Chamber of Commerce President Wally Hart said a good first step in saving the church would be returning the windows and clocks. If those items are already sold, the church could use the proceeds for this fundraising initiative, he said.
“They knew exactly what they were doing when they came up here on a weekend and took those windows,” he said.
“It’s just a real shame what happened,” Hart said, questioning why the community should now raise money to replace items taken by the owners.
Meanwhile, he said, the owners do not mow the grass, shovel the sidewalks or address needed repairs to the church entrance.
Hart predicted the church will eventually be demolished at taxpayer expense.