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CAEDC already planning uses for church space

By Zack Hoopes

This article was published on Cumberlink.com on November 25, 2016.

Trying to refurbish a church into a mixed use commercial/residential complex takes a lot of planning, but at least the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation has another two years to figure it out.

Although the facility won’t be vacated by its congregation until 2019, at the earliest, CAEDC has already made arrangements for its nonprofit Real Estate Collaborative to take possession of the Carlisle United Methodist Church on the corner of South West and West Pomfret streets.

“Our job is to bring in funding opportunities and establish a vision,” CAEDC CEO Jonathan Bowser said. “We plan to do a lot of the footwork in meeting with the neighborhood and figuring out what they want and don’t want, especially with regard to parking.”

No major alterations to the church’s historic exterior are planned, Bowser noted.

In 2012, Carlisle UMC was formed by the merger of three congregations – Allison UMC, First UMC and Grace UMC. The new combined congregation moved into Grace UMC’s building, but planned to build a new facility for the centralized congregation.

Last month, subdivision plans were finally approved to start construction of a new church complex on South Spring Garden Street, on a plot that straddles the border of Carlisle Borough and South Middleton Township.

Current estimates have that building as being at least two years from completion, Bowser said, but planning on what to do with the historic downtown Carlisle church is underway even before the congregation vacates.

“We’re trying to understand exactly how many residential units we could get in, and what the commercial space would look like,” Bowser said.

The Real Estate Collaborative was formed over the summer as a subsidiary of CAEDC, a nonprofit development agency that is legally owned by the county government. The collaborative, likewise, has a board of directors consisting of local government officials as well as business leaders

The collaborative will be able to take advantage of CAEDC’s funding pool, as well as other low-interest capital available to nonprofits, to buy and sell real estate in order to spark redevelopment.

“Ideally, we would supply the work and initial funding to get things moving, and then find a private investor to buy in as the managing partner,” Bowser said. “They would be the ones running the building and working with the tenant residents and businesses.”

The church’s sanctuary itself – built in the 1920s – takes up relatively little of the whole space. Major additions were put on in 1965 and in 2001, consisting of dozens of classrooms, offices and meeting spaces.

These rooms could be easily converted into condos or apartments, Bowser noted. Early estimates from the architect doing a preliminary survey, Bowser said, are 30 to 40 units.

The church also has two large kitchens – one on the lower level with the current youth group meeting and performance space, and the other in the later addition, adjacent to the indoor basketball court.

“The basketball court and gym facilities are really unique,” Bowser noted. “It would be an added value to people who are renting an apartment or buying a condo, and would be open to the public as well as a community space.”

This also means that the church’s social spaces could be used as seating for restaurants or cafes – including the sanctuary itself. Other open areas could be sued for boutique retail shops.

“One of the things we’ve also tasked the architect with was a way to create defined entranceways and have a means to separate the commercial and residential parts of the property,” Bowser said.

Three major obstacles to such a redevelopment will have to be overcome. The first is funding – the church needs roughly $1 million in electrical, mechanical, pluming and other upgrades.

“We will have access to grant funding, as well as tax credits, but it will take private capital to get on board,” Bowser said.

The second issue is zoning, which will need to be changed to allow certain commercial uses, but there is ample time to work out an arrangement with Carlisle Borough, Bowser said.

The third matter is parking, of which the church has very little and must carefully arrange with the adjacent Bosler Memorial Library in order to manage flow. Even still, major events at either facility cause street parking to become tight for several blocks around.

“If we can get a solution to the parking, it’ll be viable,” Bowser said. “It’s a unique property that would don’t’ see outside of large metro areas. You could attract and retain younger talent. We have so many Dickinson students going through this neighborhood, but very few stay after graduation. Something like this would help retain the young talent that you educate here.”

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