The Moncton Archdiocese has announced an agreement to save the historic Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Cathedral from the wrecking ball.

Moncton cathedral

Moncton's Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Cathedral, which needs about $7 million in repairs, has been given a new lease on life thanks to a new lease agreement with five Acadian groups. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Five Acadian organizations will lease office space on the ground floor of the church, providing revenue to help fund the more than $7 million dollars in needed repairs over the next 15 years.

"We have a great deal of work ahead," Archbishop Valery Vienneau said during a news conference on Thursday.

The rent from the new tenants won't be enough to cover the cost of repairing its crumbling exterior, but church leaders hope the cathedral's new use will raise its profile and encourage donations in a fundraising campaign.

Early fundraising efforts did not go well, said committee co-chair Alexis Couture.

"One of the main comments was, if the new cathedral does not have a new function, a new role in the community, it will not happen. So what we're bringing is a new vision for this building, a long-term sustainable vision."

A citizens' group had proposed the idea more than a year ago and a feasibility study was conducted with funding from the provincial government and the City of Moncton.

"We are very proud that those interested in preserving this iconic building have worked together to propose a plan and a possible solution," said Deputy Mayor Paulette Thériault.

Moncton Archbishop Valery Vienneau

Moncton Archbishop Valery Vienneau hopes the new lease agreement will boost fundraising efforts. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Robert Pichette, who wrote a book on the history of the cathedral, says turning the basement into a community space is true to the original vision of Archbishop Arthur Melanson, who oversaw construction in the late 1930s.

"His church in his mind was partly, of course, a temple, a spiritual place, which it still is, and part of it was civic-minded," said Pichette.

"He had thought of a public library. It did exist for a number of years. There was even the original Acadian Museum installed here. And there were other rooms set aside for public meetings for various organizations and various groups. So all in all, it's not a new vocation it's getting, it's a renewed vocation."

The cathedral is considered a cultural landmark and a symbol of the resilience of the community.

It was built right after the Depression, in the midst of a war, and paid for entirely by ordinary Acadians.

When the cathedral was opened, it served roughly 1,500 families, but now, only about 300 use it as their church regularly.