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Norcross denies purchase of church for cultural arts center

NORCROSS - In a move that seemed to surprise many citizens Monday night, Norcross Councilman Michael Lovelady presented a plan to purchase the Methodist church and surrounding property located across the street from City Hall. The proposed use for the property was for the city's much-anticipated cultural arts/community center. After much debate the purchase was denied.

Using a slide presentation, Lovelady said the church, built in 1875, could be purchased for $2 million and for an additional $20,000 could be made ready for city use as a community center, senior center and civic meeting place.

Former councilman Josh Bare, in the public hearing portion of the meeting, said "To tell you the truth, I'm in a little bit of a state of shock about this (being on the agenda). Lots of people participated in the LCI study which said that a cultural arts center is necessary. We paid about $100,000 for the study. Now here we are talking about buying the church. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered."

For about three years, the city has been planning to build a replica of the old Norcross schoolhouse that would house a performing arts center, a civic meeting area and senior citizens center. Several focus groups participated in the planning of the center, and the project grew to an estimated cost of between $4 million and $10 million. Further consideration led council members and other planners to rethink the project on a more scaled-down version, but the project was never put out for firm bids.

"The LCI study was a concept study," said councilman Charlie Riehm. "Now we're trying to develop a workable plan." In fact, the city had already entered into a contract with the church property owners contingent upon approval of the purchase through Monday night's public hearing.

Both Lovelady and Riehm said there is enough money in SPLOST funds to purchase the church property and build the schoolhouse replica community center.

Following more than an hour of often-heated discussion, Mayor Lillian Webb said she opposed the idea of purchasing the church property for the purpose of converting it to a civic building. "I still think we need to table this and reconsider," Webb said.

When put to a vote, Riehm and Lovelady favored the purchase. Councilman Terry Bowie and McLeroy voted against it. Webb cast the deciding vote, and the purchase was denied.