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Developer keeps options open in church purchase

Savarino Construction Services Corp. has no specific plans yet for how it would use the buildings of Central Presbyterian Church, which the developer will purchase for $1.365 million.

Church members approved the sale of the five buildings at Main Street and Jewett Parkway in a near-unanimous vote. The sale could be finalized by October, if the Presbytery of Western New York signs off on the transaction during a meeting in May.

The congregation, which dates from 1835, had become too small to maintain the 900-seat English Gothic sandstone church and four ancillary buildings.

Church members hope to partner with another established church or rent or build a smaller facility. Some of them met Tuesday night with members of University Presbyterian Church, which is northeast of their church on Main Street, to discuss a possible "joint ministry agreement."

The Rev. Stephen H. Phelps emphasized the meeting was "not a discussion about merging the two congregations."

City Hope Community Church, a small congregation mostly of African immigrants, continues to share space in Central Presbyterian and also will search for a new worship facility.

For years, the buildings have provided meeting space for many community groups and an anchor property on Main Street, and are a landmark gateway into the Parkside neighborhood, which includes the Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway.

Savarino views the site as full of potential. "We think it's a terrific location," said Eva M. Hassett, vice president for strategic initiatives. "There are a lot of ways we can reuse the space."

In addition to the Darwin Martin House, nearby are the Buffalo Zoo and the redeveloped Tri-Main building.

Arts and cultural groups interested in being near those destinations might be good candidates for renting space, Hassett said.

"That's one of the directions it could certainly take, and we would be really excited about that direction," she said.

The developer will be speaking with Parkside residents about the issue, she added.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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