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Bell Tower Advocates Not Giving Up As First Lutheran Moves Ahead With Demolition

first lutheran church
Becca Costello
/
WVXU
The First Lutheran Church is on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine, across from Washington Park.

Community advocates say they'll keep fighting to save a historic bell tower in Over-the-Rhine, even though church leaders have decided to move ahead with demolition.

The First Lutheran Church's bell tower is structurally unsafe and restoration would cost up to $3 million. Pastor Brian Ferguson says one factor in the decision is how long the church and community need to stay out of the building.

"Contract signature in mid-September would get us back in the building in August 2022, which would really be right at the two and a half year mark, when you add the pandemic closure to the building," Ferguson said.

Advocates say the Save the Bell Tower campaign has raised about half the funds needed for restoration. The church asked for $1 million in the City of Cincinnati budget, but Council passed the budget last week without those funds. Instead, council members voted 8-1 to promise $500,000 in closeout funds, which will be available sometime in September.

OTR ADOPT executive director Danny Klingler says they're on a roll with private donations, the expected $500,000 from the city, and state historic tax credits.

"You add all that up, and we definitely have enough money," Klinger said. "It's just the uncertainty over that money actually being converted into cash in the next two to three months that is making folks in the leadership of the church feel uncomfortable. So we just need to fill that gap with the certainty piece, and then we're there."

Klingler says the biggest need is a philanthropist willing to invest about $700,000, which would be returned later through the historic tax credits. He says they're also looking for a short-term loan of $500,000 until the city's allocation is finalized.

Ferguson says he's amazed by the community support for the effort.

"We are passionate about restoring this sacred space, this historic piece of architecture on Washington Park," Ferguson said. "But there's just a limit and it seems like the limit came to a head."

Church leaders are beginning the process of scheduling the demolition, which could be complete in the next three to four months.