A Movable Feast

Samaritan Center is close to picking former St. John the Evangelist church

The Samaritan Center is considering moving its humanitarian work of feeding the poor to the former St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, on the near North Side.

“We’re narrowing down our opportunities,” said Mary Beth Frey, the center’s executive director.

Owen Kerney, assistant director for the City Planning Division of the Syracuse/Onondaga Planning Agency, said Frey sent a “preliminary letter” on Jan. 2 outlining the Samaritan Center’s hopes to move to the church, at 215 N. State St. He also said that the center requested to broaden the scope of its use of the 160-year-old church building to include providing space for community events.

Frey says that the group has not made a decision yet, but she confirmed that the center has not contacted the city about any other sites.

The Samaritan Center has for several years been seeking to move from the unheated and unventilated basement of St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Montgomery Street. In the summer, a proposal to relocate to Catherine and James streets caused an angry and negative reaction from the Hawley Green neighborhood, and that plan was abandoned.

St. John the Evangelist closed when the parish merged with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in June 2010. The church building, a Gothic structure with Tiffany-style windows, served as the cathedral for the Diocese of Syracuse for a time in the 19th century. For three years after the parish closed, the building was home to the Brennan Stained Glass Studio. Late last year, Scott Brennan moved his studio to Roxford Road South; Brennan had occupied the church building under a rent-to-own agreement with the diocese, which still owns the property.

After a review by the zoning office, the city concluded that the near North Side church would be a permitted use. Kerney wrote back to the Samaritan Center on Jan. 10, giving the 30-year-old agency “an initial green light.”

Kerney says that there has been no formal application or time frame given for the projected move. Frey indicated that she would have an announcement to make in the coming weeks.

For his part, Scott Brennan thinks it would be “fabulous idea” to have the Samaritan Center in the old St. John’s.

“Get people in there to see the place. It’s a beautiful building,” he told the Syracuse New Times. “They’d have plenty of parking there and lots of room.”

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