The former St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland will be converted into a headquarters for an undisclosed nonprofit. 2015 staff file photo
The former St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland will be converted into a headquarters for an undisclosed nonprofit. 2015 staff file photo
Sam Quinn and Kristy Deer, Daily Reporter

CUMBERLAND – A historic church in Cumberland once at risk of being demolished will be preserved and renovated, and land on the same plot will be turned into senior housing, officials announced Tuesday.

Work is expected to start by the end of the year on the century-old St. John United Church of Christ, 11000 E. Washington St., officials said.

Tuesday’s announcement brings a years-long saga over the fate of the historic building to an end. Since the congregation moved out of the dilapidated structure in 2015, town officials and church leaders have debated whether the building could be saved or was better off being demolished to sell the land.

The new plans call for preservation of the church as well as development of the land, leaving stakeholders on both sides satisfied with the project’s future.

The German Church Senior Apartments will consist of 60 income-based, two-bedroom senior apartments and is estimated to cost more than $10 million. The apartments are destined for the north end of the property, and the church will be converted into headquarters for an undisclosed nonprofit, Cumberland town manager April Fisher said.

The project was chosen recently for federal tax credits through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority — a condition Indianapolis-based TWG Development said must be met to move forward. TWG sought $886,849 in tax credits, according to information posted on the state housing authority’s website. Town officials did not specify how much money the developer received.

The fate of the church at the intersection of German Church Road and Washington Street just west of the Hancock-Marion county line has been in limbo since 2015. The congregation conducted its final service there that October, citing mounting maintenance costs and dwindling membership.

About two years ago, the congregation entered into an agreement with TWG to purchase the property, but the sale was contingent on the award of housing tax credits.

The developers applied in 2016 for the credits, and the project was wait-listed. This year, the project was among 63 projects considered. The German Church Senior Apartments was one of 17 projects chosen to receive tax credits by IHCDA.

Church leader Richard Suiter said parishioners, who have been holding services at a new site on Carroll Road near Prospect Street, are thrilled to see the project move forward.

The federal housing credits are awarded annually by the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority to developers to encourage investment in affordable housing. Investors buy the credits, generating revenue to fund projects.

In addition to creating the apartments, the developers also have committed to preserving the original structure of the church, which opened in 1914.

Construction plans are still being finalized, but developers hope to break ground on the apartments by the end of the year.

“German Church Senior Apartments represents a creative solution to save an iconic structure while providing much needed affordable housing for seniors in the area. There has been an incredible amount of support for the development, and we’re very glad to be moving forward,” TWG Development Director Jonathan Ehlke wrote in a news release.

The church has a long history in Cumberland. In 1855, the original church was opened and mainly served German immigrants. In 1914, the Tudor Gothic Revival-style church that sits on the site today was opened to accommodate the church’s growing membership.

The church’s congregation first listed the property for sale in 2010.

A small cemetery that sits behind the building will not be affected by the new development.

Last year, the town and Indiana Landmarks, which advocates for the preservation of historic structures, launched a fundraising campaign to keep church officials from razing the building last summer.

Church leaders said they needed the money from the sale of the site to begin building a permanent new home for their congregation.

The effort raised more than $75,000 from nearly 100 donors.

Fisher said Cumberland officials were thrilled when they received the news late last week that the tax credits they’d hoped for came through. She called the project a team effort.

“We’ve had a great partnership with the church, the congregation, the city of Indianapolis” she said. “It’s really been a team effort. It’s a big sigh of relief for us to be able to preserve our identity.”

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