Opera house planned for Southold United Methodist Church

(Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
(Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Southold United Methodist Church, which closed its doors and was listed for sale last June due to dwindling membership and mounting maintenance costs, is in contract to be purchased and converted to an opera house.

Bill Moore, an attorney for the church and one of its trustees, said the sale of the building is expected to take another two months. Under state law, he said, the process requires state Supreme Court approval because the sale involves a church-owned property.

“We go to Riverhead to get [the approval] done,” Mr. Moore said. “I don’t expect any issues; it’s pretty routine.”

According to Tom Uhlinger of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, the church’s real estate company, the purchasers don’t wish to disclose their identities at this time. He said he expects an official announcement to be made within two or three weeks.

On Tuesday, the Douglas Elliman website listed the asking price for the church building at $1.1 million. In November, the church was asking $1.6 million for the property.

“The church is excited; the people are very nice,” Mr. Moore said. “They want to re-use the church and keep the windows and pews. Any fears the neighbors have of the church being torn down sound like they will be alleviated. [The buyers] want to use the building as is.”

The Rev. Tom McLeod echoed Mr. Moore’s sentiments, explaining that while it is sad to see the church go, it’s nice the building will become an opera house.

“The building [will have] continued access for the people of the community,” he said. “People who want to go to this kind of event can enjoy the structure as it exists — in hopefully a much more renovated state. We didn’t have the resources to do that, so this affords the building continued use.”

The Southold church is among several that were put on the market in recent months. Noticing the trend, and responding to concerns about what would happen to the largely historic buildings, the Southold Town Board passed a local zoning law earlier this year to help preserve the structures. The law outlines certain allowed uses that give buyers more flexibility in what they can do in the buildings. In return, the new owners are required to keep the old churches in good condition and not alter their exteriors.

“It’s good for the churches because they’re able to tap into a whole new segment” of buyers, now that the town allows for more options, said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell.

Before the change, owners of such buildings were very limited in what they could do with them, he said.

After the Southold church closed in June, its parishioners joined members of Cutchogue United Methodist Church to form a new congregation called North Fork United Methodist Church, which is led by the Rev. McLeod. They currently meet at the Cutchogue church, though that building is also for sale. Once it is also sold, the plan is to build a new Methodist church elsewhere in Southold Town.

Bob Kuhne, president of Old Town Arts and Crafts Guild in Cutchogue, placed an offer on the Cutchogue church building this week. As of presstime, he had yet to hear back.

“I don’t know what they have to do,” said Mr. Kuhne, who said he was unaware of the pending sale of the Southold church. “It’s in the preliminary stage and whether or not they accept our terms … there’s a lot of contingencies; the primary one is the sale of our property.”

The art group’s vision for the church includes hosting galleries, art shows and music events.

An opera house in the Southold church building “would be really good,” Mr. Kuhne said.

“It’s sort of what I was thinking of, but I was thinking of small concerts like they have in the park,” he said. “No major rock festivals, that’s for sure.”

Although the sale the Southold structure will take some time, the Rev. McLeod said he’s excited for the new future of the building.

“Personally, I’m thrilled with the idea,” he said. “It’s something that, with the options that exist in the reality of the world we live in, the building simply could have been knocked down. Who knows what it would have looked like then? I’m very encouraged that the town has stepped up the preservation of these buildings.”

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