University Park delays negotiations on church purchase -- Gazette.Net


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University Park residents hoping for a new community center will have to wait at least six months longer because of postponed discussions between the town and Riverdale Presbyterian Church.

University Park has considered purchasing and remodeling Riverdale as a community center for almost a year, and was set to enter negotiations in March when the process was put on hold in what both parties describe as “a mutual agreement.”

“We will take the discussions up again in the fall, and who knows where the chips will fall,” said University Park Mayor John Tabori. “I do think there’s a real need in this community for a meeting place that’s outside of the school.”

The Town Council currently meets at University Park Elementary School, where council members sit in chairs meant for children. Riverdale is located near the center of town and is one of few spaces that could accommodate a community center, so when the church approached the town in April of 2013 about a possible purchase, it seemed like a “win-win,” said Councilman Len Carey (Ward 4).

In February, Riverdale signed another church as a tenant, which relived some of Riverdale’s financial burden, said Joyce Korab, head of communications at Riverdale.

“We’re exploring what is the best solution for the church,” she said. “We all thought it would be better to delay things and revisit later this year.”

The Town Council also discovered the purchase and remodeling would be more complicated and expensive than originally thought.

Carey said renovations to get the building up to code would cost around $7 million, and would be more expensive than demolishing and rebuilding part of the structure to use as a community center.

Carey said community members were also concerned that destroying part or all of the building would prevent civic groups from meeting there.

“What was driving this was the community use, which the church has been accommodating for decades,” he said. “It’s a very busy building, and if that building was not available, where would those groups meet?”

William Hockberger, who has been a University Park resident for 41 years, said he is in favor of the town purchasing the property and thinks the entire building should be demolished and rebuilt.

“It doesn’t matter to me when [the negotiations happen],” he said. “[But] I don’t want to see the town raze the building in two steps. Two episodes of that [means] two episodes of noise and dust and traffic. Doing it all at once makes the most sense.”

Tabori said he plans to attend meetings about the church purchase after he retires as mayor in June, and will follow the issue as a University Park citizen.

“One of the strongest aspects of living in University Park is a community character,” Tabori said. “That community character, getting to know each other, comes from the fact that the civic groups are very helpful here. And I think that’s something we want to keep.”

eeastman@gazette.net