YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Youngstown Design Review Board today approved the demolition of the historic Welsh Congregational Church, the oldest church in the town.
It was not without some opposition, however.
First Ward Councilor Julius Oliver questioned why the Catholic Diocese would demolish a church when there was money and space to move it.
“Why is the diocese ready to assume the cost of demolishing a church? Funds have already been provided to move it. There has already been an agreement between the diocese, YSU and the city to put it on a plot of land next to the steel museum. The diocese would incur no liability if it agreed to allow Cityscape to move this church to the chosen location,” he said.
Pat Kelly, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Youngstown, responded by saying there was never a deal in place.
“We have had several meetings about this, but in terms of a formal agreement or a written agreement, none have been offered by Cityscape, the city or anyone. We had timelines that we put in place for our future development and stuff and those timelines came and went, and there was never a formal agreement. There was never a cost estimate, no demonstration that the funds were secure or anything,” he said.
Oliver said that was wrong and that a deal was in place after they all met at the proposed site.
“I understand nothing was written. You might consider this a gentleman’s agreement. Everyone was in favor of this,” Oliver said. money and location to move.”
Oliver then questioned the legality of demolishing a historic building, asking the legal department to explain if it was legal.
“Yes, they can demolish the structure with due diligence if an effort is developed to research all avenues and options to save what is described as a historic place of worship. The legal department analyzed the efforts made by the diocese to do everything in its power to accommodate those who want to save the church. The Catholic Diocese wanted to save the church, there was no feasible and viable option for the Diocese to deal with it, and they are perfectly within their rights to move forward,” said Youngstown’s legal director. , Jeff Limbian.
Photos from inside the church showed crumbling ceilings, holed floors, boarded up windows and deteriorating walls and doors.
Oliver pointed out that there was also money offered to repair the church. He asked Hunter Morrison of the design review board if he had ever seen buildings in such poor condition being restored.
“I’ve seen buildings in disrepair that have been restored, I don’t know without working with a qualified preservation architect what the costs are involved. I see significant costs in terms of beams. I’ve seen worse, but it could be expensive to restore,” Morrison said.
Sharon Woodberry, Director of Economic Development, added, “When buildings in this state are in front of the city for these issues, it’s because of extremely deteriorating conditions and they end up being demolished.”
Oliver asked Cityscape’s Sharon Letson if their donor would be willing to undertake such a large project as needed to repair the church, given its deteriorated condition.
“I wouldn’t speak on behalf of the donor other than to say she’s committed funds and is committed if we could move forward with the project,” Letson said.
Nick Chretein of the design review committee asked the diocese to wait another month to allow plans to move the church to be in place before making the final decision to demolish it. However, Kelly explained that they had been working on this issue for years and were not willing to wait and would move forward.
In the end, the committee voted to approve the demolition with a 3-1 vote. Nikki Posterli, Chuck Shasho and Bill D’Avignon voted for demolition. Nick Chretein voted no. Member Jonathan Imler abstained and member Jay Crafton was absent.
A nearby print shop will also be demolished. Both buildings are owned by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and are located on Elm St. next to St. Columba’s Cathedral.
In a statement, diocesan spokesman Justin Huyck wrote, “The diocese will begin razing the church and print shop once we have received all necessary permits. We anticipate this month. As we head into spring, we will begin landscaping.
The Welsh Congregational Church was built in 1861. There have been many efforts over the past five years to save the church.