Thursday, June 01, 2006

Saving an old Albany church,
one party at a time

Summer events set to raise about $1,000 each to rescue building

First published: Thursday, June 1, 2006

ALBANY -- People who want to help pay for repairs to a landmark former church in Arbor Hill will be holding dozens of house parties this summer to raise the money. A group called Committee 150 intends to hold 150 parties -- with a goal of raising about $1,000 each time for the Historic Albany Foundation, which will put the money toward work at St. Joseph's Church, said Colleen Ryan, the committee's co-founder.

"People get asked for money all the time," said Ryan, a former board president of the historic foundation. "They don't always get asked to have a party. People have all kinds of ideas, from upscale affairs to community-oriented."

In 2003, the city gave the foundation ownership of the 141-year-old neo-Gothic church, which had been closed nearly a decade earlier by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese. The roof was in danger of collapse because leaks had rotted a key supporting pillar.

Earlier that year, the city took ownership of the church from Lark Street restaurateur Elda Abate through eminent domain in January 2003, saying the building was in danger of falling down, and spent nearly $250,000 on exterior scaffolding and other emergency repairs.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provided a $300,000 matching grant for repair work, but the foundation had to raise its own money and spend it before being reimbursed.

So far, the foundation has spent about $100,000, Ryan said. The roof has been repaired and pillar replaced, but more work remains, including the restoration of the ornate stained glass windows.

"People are always saying to me, that's great you have the state grant. Well, it doesn't work exactly that way. We have to spend the money first," said Ryan.

Even though it's been four years, the foundation isn't in danger of losing the remaining portion of the grant, said Wendy Gibson, a spokesman for the office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "They are making an effort and we are working with them," Gibson said.

Ryan said the committee, which includes about 70 members, held its first house party during the running of the Kentucky Derby in May at a Mansion neighborhood residence, where about $1,100 was raised. (Actually, the party was on Spring Street...)

She's also making the 10th annual version of her own springtime gathering -- which she dubs Stoopathon -- into a house party for St. Joseph's.

Already, a prominent investment counselor has stepped up with a challenge. Candace King Weir, owner of C.L. King & Associates Inc, will match $1 for every $2 raised at the parties, Ryan said.
"We already have 70 parties or pledges -- agreements to host a Committee 150 event or contributions of $1,000," said Ryan, who founded the committee with Elizabeth Griffin, the former executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation.

"Even though we had raised $100,000 of the $300,000 matching grant before I left, I felt there was something we could do as a community to secure the remaining funds while raising awareness of this magnificent building and neighborhood," Griffin said.

Parties will be held in June, July, August and September. The group's steering committee has developed a Committee 150 Kit that will be sent to each host, which includes background on the stabilization project and tips to help them meet the fundraising goal.Information on Committee 150 and upcoming parties is available at

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at


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