Thursday, February 9, 2012

Guelph’s Lakeside Church set to pay $1 million for Norfolk United

Downtown church sold Norfolk Street United Church in downtown Guelph has been conditionally sold for $1 million.

Guelph Mercury
by Rob O'Flanagan

GUELPH , Ontario, February 8, 2012 — One of Guelph’s oldest churches may soon have a new owner.

Norfolk Street United Church and Lakeside Church have reached an agreement of sale that will see Lakeside pay $1 million for the 156-year-old limestone structure at the corner of Cork and Norfolk streets in downtown Guelph. Norfolk Street United began as a congregation 175 years ago.

“We get to have a fantastic facility to do some great things in the city, and bring care to the inner city of Guelph,” said Dave Ralph, lead pastor of Lakeside Church, an independent, non-denominational Christian organization. It is located on Conservation Road, in Guelph-Eramosa, near Guelph Lake.

Officials involved in the deal say the price of sale was fair market value, and that the sale is a “win-win situation” for both parties.

“That is a fair price,” said Allan Knapp, council chair for Norfolk United. “We had an independent appraisal done which set the ballpark price, and we talked with architects and developers in town. We looked at options for the church, whether the best price would be based on the vacant land, commercial use or as a church. In every case, being used as a church gave us the best price.”

The agreement allows Norfolk’s roughly 200 parishioners to stay on for three years, continuing to use the church section of the complex for worship until the congregation is able to merge with another United Church in the city, Knapp said Wednesday.

He added that other than an upgrade to the boiler system, the building does not need major repairs.

“I would say I am very sure,” said Knapp, when asked how certain he was that the conditional deal will go through. “The key for us is that we can stay up to three years, and it continues to be a church, which for us is wonderful news.”

Once taking ownership, Lakeside will begin establishing Lakeside HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty Everywhere) House at the location. A community outreach facility, it will offer services for local people living in poverty.

Talk began to circulate last year that Lakeside Church might be interested in buying Norfolk United, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2011. The idea to establish Lakeside HOPE House was hatched over a year ago, and discussions began with Norfolk United in August, officials said.

Lakeside Church now has to raise the funds to purchase the downtown structure, and other conditions have to be met prior to the June 30 closing date on the sale. The sale has to be approved by upper levels of United Church governance, a detailed building inspection must be done, and a purchase and sale agreement has to be signed.

“I have full confidence in our community to raise the funds,” said Ralph. “I know our community. I know their passion and enthusiasm. We are all pretty comfortable that is going to be achievable. There is a strong sense of confidence on both sides that this is going to become a reality.”

Ralph said the primary purpose of Lakeside HOPE House will be to “pick up some of the gaps in poverty elimination needs” in the community, while avoiding duplication of existing services in that area. Lakeside will work closely with city and social services officials in crafting the services of HOPE House.

“I think long-term what we would want to see is, people who have tangible needs could get many of those needs met in a single location,” Ralph said, adding that current users of the building will be considered on a case-by-case basis as to what their future occupancy will be. There are certain spaces that Lakeside needs immediately and tenants of those spaces will have to move.

Ralph said Lakeside Church is also interested in exploring alternative uses for the church hall part of the structure, once Norfolk United’s congregation has moved on. He said it “will always remain an auditorium of some sort,” and might have a future as a small concert hall. Some form of partnership with the University of Guelph may also be explored.

“What we want to do is be good citizens of downtown Guelph and allow our facility to be used as part of being good citizens of downtown Guelph,” Ralph added.

The church began its religious life as a Methodist congregation back in 1836. The actual downtown church was built in 1856 and still holds the inscription “Wesleyan Methodist Church” above its front entrance. Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s father, Rev. Edwin Pearson, was a Methodist minister at the church between 1917 and 1921.

“We didn’t want to see the church turned into condos or other things,” said Knapp. Parts of the church are currently rented out to a number of organizations for a number of purposes. Alcoholics Anonymous uses it for meetings, and Lilliput Land Nursery School is located in the building.

There are two options for the proceeds from the sale, Knapp said. If the Norfolk United congregation is able to merge with another congregation locally, the money will be used by that new entity, with some possibly being donated to non-profit groups in the city. If a merger doesn’t take place, the funds would become general revenue for the United Church of Canada.

Knapp said the first option is preferable.