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Advocates: First Lutheran Bell Tower Can't Be Saved Without $1M From City

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First Lutheran Church
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First Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine.

An effort to save a historic church bell tower in Over-the-Rhine is gaining ground, but advocates say they can't reach their goal without a million dollars from the city. The First Lutheran Church's bell tower is 126-years-old. It's under emergency demolition orders and repairs will cost between $3-4 million.

"Private donations, historic tax credits, grants from local and even national sources are coming in," said Paul Muller, executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association. "Even though all that's working, we just can't get there without the grant from the city."

Muller says the community can't afford to wait months or years while fundraising.

"The building can't be used until it's fixed, and there are many not-for-profit groups and support groups that use this low-cost facility," he said.

Council Member David Mann introduced a motion committing $1 million for the bell tower. Chris Seelbach, who lives in Over-the-Rhine, has also pushed for funding.

Church staff initially set a deadline of June 5 to raise the funds, but has extended the timeline until June 23, which is when council is expected to vote on the budget.

A proposal to use American Rescue Plan funds for the project had support from some council members, but the city law department determined it was ineligible for the federal stimulus.

If the million dollars for the tower is not included in the budget, First Lutheran will move ahead with demolition.

The final public hearing for the city budget is Wednesday at 5 p.m.