CINCINNATI — Supporters of First Lutheran Church took to the streets in their fight to bring down the building’s bell tower, hosting a rally at City Hall demanding the administration issue a demolition permit for the historic structure deemed a public hazard.
The rally was the first time the church held a demonstration to draw awareness and support for their effort to take down the bell tower. Despite the church's calls for a demolition permit, the city says its hands are tied due to a legal battle over the tower. Last week, preservation organization OTR Adopt appealed a lawsuit against the city to stop the historic tower from being taken down.
“The litigation needs to stop,” one protestor said.
OTR Adopt has been trying to stop the city and First Lutheran from removing the bell tower since it was first deemed a public hazard in 2020. The church has not been able to use the building since, hopping to other venues. The appeal is intensifying a struggle between preservationists trying to save a historic landmark and a religious group that wants its church home back.
“The cost of not being in the building is a loss of service to the community,” the protestor continued. “And I think there’s a disagreement on what it actually costs to get back into the building and be safe.”
The church’s pastor, Brian Ferguson, condemned the city for not acting on its own emergency order and taking the tower down sooner. In a phone interview, he accused the city of distancing itself from the situation and interfering with the church’s religious freedom.
The city responded with a statement saying in part, "It is the responsibility of the property owner to fix and properly maintain their building. The City has issued orders and has, and will continue, to work through the required legal processes.”
The city went on to say that the decision over whether it will be directed to grant permits to First Lutheran Church still has to be decided in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Church members hope the issue can be resolved soon.
“We’re at a stalemate and I hope the city will fall on one side,” said churchgoer Chris Heckman.
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
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