YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Youngstown City Council Wednesday evening was sent to a third reading legislation allocating $100,000 to renovate one of the historic churches on Youngstown’s South Side into a community center in the former sanctuary of New Bethel Baptist Church.
On Wednesday, the Rev. Ken Simon walked through what was for 40 years the sanctuary of Youngstown’s New Bethel Baptist Church.
The church at the corner of Hillman Street and West Marion Avenue was built in 1939 and at one time housed Highway Tabernacle before it moved to Austintown. New Bethel relocated to the South Side location in 1964, where its pastor — the late Rev. Lonnie Simon, father of the Rev. Ken Simon — preached civil rights from the pulpit.
The sanctuary was often used for political debates.
“That’s why we wanted this to stay here, because this building has a lot of history,” Ken Simon said. “The church has been known as a community church that does more than just worship and cater to itself.”
The new community center will be named after the Rev. Ken Simon.
For $250,000, a drop ceiling will be built, new lighting installed, the stage updated, first floor restrooms added, and the red carpet removed.
“We’ve already had it inspected, so the flooring will be wood flooring,” Ken Simon said.
The space will be used for training, support groups, townhall meetings, weddings, receptions and parties. A place like this, Ken Simon says, is needed in Youngstown.
“Particularly here in the African American community, where we don’t even have our own facilities — we always have to go out to other places, country clubs and every place to have our own facilities,” Ken Simon said. “Now, we can have something in the inner city.”
He also wants to focus on programs for young people.
“We’ve got to get our youth in some positive programing so that we can deter them from the lifestyle of violence,” Ken Simon said. “It’s one message to say, ‘Stop the violence,’ but then you have to offer some alternatives.”
The community center will operate as a nonprofit and will set up totally removed from New Bethel Baptist Church.
Mahoning County Commissioners have already allocated $100,000 to the project, and Youngstown City Council is expected to do the same at its next meeting.
At this time, plans are to have the center open by summer 2024.