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Mayor, city leaders not sold on moving old Youngstown church to park

Youngstown CityScape wants to move Welsh Congregational Church to Wick Park

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) - Last week, Youngstown CityScape announced plans to move the city's oldest church to one of its most historic parks. Now we know that the announcement may have been premature because city leaders aren't totally on board.

Mayor Tito Brown can still be swayed but on Tuesday, he said the 157-year-old church can't ever be a financial burden for the city.

"Nothing's a done deal. Nothing's a done deal until you're sitting in Wick Park and having it," Brown said.

In the next four to six weeks, CityScape wants to move Welsh Congregational Church from its current location next to St. Columba Cathedral on Elm Street to the park.

"This is a successful example of what saving a church and revitalizing to make it a community asset can look like," said Phil Kidd, with CityScape.

Councilwoman Lauren McNally said she knew nothing about it.

"I found out about it when I got invited to the fundraiser."

Discussions to move the church started two years ago after the Catholic Diocese bought it and asked that it be moved.

Among the options were near the new amphitheater downtown or adjacent to the steel museum across from the cathedral. Both were nixed and somehow Wick Park was chosen.

"It is just appalling to me," said Emily Schaff, a descendant of the Wick family, who donated the park.

She's against moving the church there.

"It is a pedestrian park. It is for running. It is for tennis courts but it needs renovation," Schaff said. "If you look at CityScape's website, they list the work that needs to be done there. There is no mention that it needs a new building for meeting houses."

Other Wick descendants approve of moving the church to the park, though they want to remain anonymous.

Schaff had a suggestion.

"If the city or the land bank could donate some of the land that is around the park that is so in need of attention," she said.

Mayor Brown is not opposed to putting the church at Wick Park but he wants a plan in writing so it's cared for in the long term -- with very little city money being used.

"I need an endowment fund with this project. When I talk about private investment, I need long-term investment," he said.

"I would absolutely love to have some formal meetings with CityScape to go over what their plan is for this project," McNally said.

A CityScape official said the city would get the money from renting the church but would also be responsible for maintaining it.

The official admitted there's no signed agreement with the city but they were relying on "good faith negotiations."

CityScape officials have also said by placing the church at Wick Park, it can be used like the St. James meeting house in Boardman Park.

However, Boardman Park officials said that St. James loses money. Aside from major projects, it costs about $24,000 a year to maintain it, with the 300 weddings held there bringing in about $15,000. That's a loss of about $9,000 a year.

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