The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 1, 2013

Could vacant Albright church become a performing arts center?

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — You may soon be able to hear country music sensation Kellie Pickler, see the lovable characters from Sesame Street or spend a relaxing evening listening to the tranquilizing sounds of jazz in what today is a vacant church.

The beautiful Albright United Methodist Church, which closed in January 2011, is on Mayor David Persing’s list of vacant commercial buildings that can be repurposed.

Persing said the 80-year-old-plus building at South Fifth and Chestnut streets, with the stunning green dome and 32-inch thick granite walls, could not be built today for less than $10 million.

Sunbury Revitalization Inc. and the Sunbury Redevelopment Authority are working with the former congregation’s trustees on how the city can proceed with buying the building or working with a like-minded investor.

The building needs work, said Persing, who is unsure of the extent of repairs needed.

Gary Sites, former chairman of the Albright church, knows exactly how much work is needed.

“Not much,” he said Thursday. “That’s the rumor that this place needs a ton of work, but that isn’t true.”

Sites and Persing have talked about the church and Sites said he has been pleased with the meetings.

Because his meetings with owners of vacant commercial properties throughout the city have been productive, Persing formed the “Mayors Action Team.”

“(Former City Councilman) John Shipman and SRI have been working with representatives of the church and other building owners in hopes of finding tenants,” Persing said.

“The Albright church is a great building and it would cost more to tear it down then to bring it back to life.”

One of the main topics is having a community arts center in the Albright church.

“It’s a great idea,” Sites said. “This place would be perfect for something like that.”

The closest center is the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, which plays host to musical acts, plays, comedians, movies and other events.

The Williamsport center holds 2,200 people, a representative said. The Albright Church can seat more than 1,200.

The cost of upkeep on the Albright church is approximately $2,500 a month, Persing said.

The mayor said he can see a community arts center upstairs and perhaps a business in the basement of the church.

“There are many possibilities there,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone anywhere but meaningful talk and constant growth is what we need here in Sunbury.”

Block grants might be available to help pay to change the church into an arts center, he said.

“We will look at every avenue we could,” Persing said.  “Nothing is out of the question and we will listen to any suggestions.”

A community arts center could be the perfect fit for Sunbury, Persing said, especially in the summer, when the city hosts recreational events.

“People can have things to do right here in downtown Sunbury,” Persing said. “It would be great to keep people here eating, going to shows and spending money in the city.”

Parking would not be an issue because the city owns a warehouse on the other side of Chestnut Street that could be demolished, Persing said.

Albright United Methodist Church and St. John’s United Methodist Church merged in January 2011 as Faith United Methodist Church. Albright was founded 147 years ago as First Evangelical Church.