KEVIN LEININGER: Church restoration, downtown project move ahead; swinger’s club future still in doubt

A public meeting Sept. 14 will explain -- and seek financial support for -- the restoration of the former St. Andrew's Catholic Church on New Haven Avenue. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
This downtown commercial and parking project is back on track. (Courtesy image)
The site of the Champagne Club is not properly zoned for a swingers club, city officials say. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)-- bringsor
Kevin Leininger

I spend most of my work time trying to break original stories, not rehashing reports that are available elsewhere. “News,” after all, is by definition something you don’t already know.

But even breaking news can be rendered outdated by events, so here are noteworthy updates on three recent stories:

St. Andrew’s restoration:

After reporting last October that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend planned to tear down the stately 108-year old building at 2610 New Haven Ave. that had been St. Andrew’s Catholic Church until the parish was closed in 2003, I noted in January that the news had generated an outpouring of public concern, after which the diocese agreed to transfer ownership to an Ohio not-for-profit group that plans to return the age-weary sanctuary to its original glory.

But there’s a potential problem — a big one.

“(The cost) is worse than we expected. Things keep adding up,” said Bryan Hamilton, founder of JAGH Preservation, who originally estimated $2.1 million would have to be raised but now places that cost at closer to $3.5 million. The fundraising campaign will begin Sept. 14 with a “low Latin” mass at 3 p.m. followed by a 4:15 p.m. presentation about the project’s scope and costs.

Hamilton, a contractor, formed JAGH (the first three letters are his sons’ initials) to acquire and restore endangered historic structures. In addition to repairs to the exterior, stained-glass windows, roof and heating and cooling upgrades, plans also include landscaping, improvements to the vintage pipe organ and restoring a traditional reredo (alter piece) and other items removed over the years.

The property is currently home to a group of cloistered Poor Sisters of Saint Claire. who will continue to use the buildings rent-free. The restored church would not host a parish but would instead serve as an “oratory,” a place for prayer and celebration of mass by the sisters and for other occasions, such as weddings. A fee for public use of the building would help pay for ongoing maintenance, Hamilton said.

Although Hamilton said numerous former St. Andrew’s members and school students have expressed interest in contributing, the task clearly is daunting. But if even half that $3.5 million can be raised, Hamilton can begin work on the exterior, which should at least prevent further deterioration.

Downtown project back on:

Last November I first reported how local development firm Ashberry Eight LLC had filed plans to build a commercial and parking facility at West Berry Street and Maiden Lane. But the project was withdrawn later that month because the developers had not yet acquired a tiny but vital piece of land along Main Street.

That obstacle has now been hurdled, and plans for the five-story, 191,000-square-foot facility have been refiled with the city’s Department of Planning Services. As originally proposed, the project envisioned 379 parking spaces — a welcome addition to a downtown badly in need of more parking.

Ashberry Eight, by the way, is the same group that has been converting the previously dated Fifth Third Metro Center at 202 W. Berry into high-end office and commercial space and condos, some of which are listed at more than $1 million.

‘Swingers’ not in clear yet:

When I first reported the existence of the Champagne swingers club nearly six years ago, some questioned its legality. Nothing happened until recently, however, when City Council introduced a bill to outlaw such things.

A deadlocked vote earlier this month meant the bill failed to pass, but it did not mean the Champagne Club is no longer under legal scrutiny. As I reported in 2013, the club’s nondescript building at 2710 Nuttman Ave. is zoned for “limited industrial” use. Under city code, however, sexually oriented businesses are restricted to “intensive commercial” areas.

“The property isn’t zoned properly. Next steps from us haven’t been determined yet. We’re exploring options,” city spokesman John Perlich told me this week.

What that means isn’t clear yet, but with both the city and county exploring new zoning codes for sexually oriented businesses, this story is far from over.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.