Historic Fairport church to include performing arts space
Fairport, N.Y. (WHAM) - A church designated as a historic landmark in Fairport will be preserved, but with a slight change.
The historic Fairport First Baptist Church will transition its space to become a performing arts center.
The announcement was made Friday by the Fairport Perinton Partnership for a Better Community after the group reached an agreement with trustees of the Fairport First Baptist Church.
The church is located on the southwest corner of Main Street and Church Street in Fairport and has been there since its construction in 1876.
Barry Blake has been a parishioner for 40 years.
"Back when we first joined the church, the membership was about 250," Blake said. "Easter and Christmas, it was standing room only."
In the last 15 years, the shrinking congregation has been under financial pressure to meet maintenance expenses.
"A lot of things have happened," Blake said. "First of all, there's a lot of churches in Perinton and a lot of competition. People have drifted away just naturally."
Approximately 50 people are part of the congregation right now. That makes it difficult to take care of the 12,000 square-foot building.
"We reached a point where we could just do nothing and let it play out or try to do something bold," Blake said.
That "something bold" came in the form of an agreement with the Fairport Perinton Partnership. The organization will acquire the title to the church property by December 2017 in exchange for the congregation using the space for its Sunday worship service and other services as needed.
"They've done an excellent job with upkeep, but with the shrinking congregation and the endowment, their ability to maintain the facility has dropped," said Scott Winner, Executive Director of the Fairport Perinton Partnership. "We hope to step in and fill that gap."
“The Fairport First Baptist Church is an historical and architectural cornerstone of our community, and this transaction is designed to preserve it well into the future," said Jim Smith, president of the Fairport Perinton Partnership. "The church is having difficulty meeting their financial obligations and we hope to fill that gap and be a community organization that can provide a new life for this church ."
After several plays and a recent performance by the Genesee Valley Orchestra in the church’s sanctuary were well received, the future of the property is looking up.
Major modifications will likely be made to the first floor to add on office space, ADA restrooms, as well as rehearsal and small group performance spaces.
The Partnership will also work to acquire grants that religious organization cannot.
"This agreement takes enormous financial pressure off our small congregation while, at the same time, preserving our ability to worship in this wonderful place,” said Robert Dilger, chairman of the Church’s Board of Trustees.
A national drugstore chain attempted to purchase the property back in 2006, which was met with negative reaction by the Fairport community at large.
The red brick church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Fairport Village landmark since 2008.
"The building is the legacy," Blake said.