The Lutheran Church’s first bell tower is dangerous and must fall, says Pastor
The leadership of the First Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine has announced that it will not delay the demolition of the bell tower in its historic building. Meanwhile, community officials who have tried to raise enough money to repair the tower have appealed the city‘s emergency demolition orders.
The city of Cincinnati first issued an emergency demolition warrant for the tower last November, saying the tower was “an imminent danger of failure and collapse.”
First Lutheran Pastor Brian Ferguson says they don’t want the bell tower to fall, but they have hesitated too long.
“By allowing the community to come up to us and say, ‘Hey, would you take a break’ and by allowing that break three times, we have increased the risks we face day by day,” said he
Ferguson says the situation is complex and the church’s decision is not based on a single factor; it encompassed security, legal liability, financial stability and the preservation of the future of the 179 year old religious community.
See a statement by the church leadership below; the story continues after that.
The church hired a contractor in late June and could begin demolishing soon.
“Pray every day” There is no bulldozer on site
However, the lawyers are not giving up the fight. OTR ADOPT, a non-profit organization that preserves endangered historic buildings, hired another engineer to assess the tower’s safety. Your report says the tower does not require the support upgrades recommended by the first engineer.
âWe have a recognized engineering approach that is absolutely code-compliant and absolutely secure. And we urge the church to reconsider this, âsaid Danny Klingler, founder and CEO of OTR ADOPT, who appealed. “Our team wakes up every day and prays there isn’t a bulldozer on site.”
Pastor Ferguson says while city and state building codes don’t require such extensive repairs, the church must choose the safest option.
“First, Lutherans are required by law not to knowingly allow anything to exist with our building or structure that presents a safety of life or a property problem or threat,” Ferguson said. “Although the code would say, ‘Yes, it’s 1895, you don’t have to do modern seismic stabilization,’ there are still things going on in this structure that are cause for concern.”
Ferguson says even if the Church has chosen the cheaper repair option, there won’t be enough funding without seismic stabilization.
Resources available and next steps
Lawyers have a plan with approximately $ 1.7 million in committed funds for a repair that could cost up to $ 1.9 million. That includes a $ 500,000 real estate pledge, which Ferguson says is essentially a loan, and the church cannot take on the additional debt.
Lawyers were hoping for an additional $ 500,000 from what was left of the city’s final fiscal year. Although the city council voted 8-1 in June to promise consideration for the bell tower, the project was not included in the city manager’s proposal for the use of transferred funds and no council members have asked for it to be added. The Council is expected to adopt a budget for transfers this week.
OTR ADOPT is also trying to stop the tower’s demolition by appealing separate demolition orders for a church-owned building next door. The city says part of this structure will need to be demolished so that a crew can then safely demolish the bell tower.
OTR ADOPT’s Klingler says there is insufficient reason to bypass a public hearing about the demolition of a historic building.
“What is the reason for an Emergency Demo Approval?” he said. “The only option would be to get access to another building.”
Ferguson says the church hired a lawyer to advise them on how to proceed. He says it is disheartening to spend money from the Ministry of Legal Advice.
“If we lose the bell tower, it means our faith community can still stay active and a community can contribute. We interpret that as a gain, not a loss,” Ferguson said. “If we save the clock tower and that means we have to close our church and the clock tower is still there. And it adds a beautiful look to the historic landscape for the community because of what we offer the community and our services.”
The pending appeal does not prevent the Church from beginning the demolition.