Edmonton

City makes final effort to save historic McDougall Church

McDougall Church will get one last chance at a new life, but the likelihood of saving the building is still slim.

‘If major action isn’t taken within the next year, it’s done for,’ said Mayor Don Iveson

McDougall United Church has stood in downtown Edmonton for 105 years. Now, it's future is up in the air. (CBC )

McDougall Church will get one last chance at a new life, but the likelihood of saving the building is still slim.

The historic church needs $18.4 to $25.5 million in repairs. Experts who studied the 105-year-old building say at least some of those repairs need to be made this year or the church will be lost.

Mayor Don Iveson said the community, the congregation and the province must all step up to help, or the church will be demolished.

He said the city can help with the initial work needed to stabilize the building, but first the congregation must agree to preserve it long term.

“The city cannot provide money to the congregation without historical designation,” he said.

“It’s what I said a year ago, it’s what I said the year before that, it’s what the city said consistently.”

The congregation is hesitant to apply for a historic designation because it would make the land worthless. If the congregation were to demolish the church, they could sell the land for $7 million.

“The church has been playing hardball with us for several years now, and basically threatening to sell the building if they don’t get what they want, and that’s not helping the situation,” Iveson said.

Church treasurer Greg Greenough said the congregation would be happy to apply for a historic designation, if they knew enough money would be in place to repair and maintain the building. So far, no one has offered those funds.

“We would like to know that the building will be maintained and retained as a historical building, and that funds will be committed by someplace, by someone, on the long term,” Greenough said.

“If there’s a designation there and no financial commitment, then you’ve destroyed the value.”

The city will look to philanthropists and the province to help pay for the major repair work that's needed.

Even if enough partners come forward to save the building, it may not be used as a church. Councillors floated the idea of making McDougall Church a community building, and renting it out for arts and culture events to cover the cost of repairs.

Greenough said the congregation will deal with that, once they figure out a plan for the building.

“It’s not about preserving our congregation, it’s about preserving the building,” Greenough said.

Gerald Watts, who has been a member of the church for 38 years, said the congregation can move.

“We’ve been there for 135 years on that site," he said. "Is that intrinsic to the church community? I don’t think so."

Iveson said with council’s permission, city staff will form a committee to come up with creative ways to fund the repairs.

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