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Old church inspires new hope

Donna Gray
Post Independent Photo/Kelley CoxCatholic Charities has purchased the old St. Stephen's Church on Grand Avenue.
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Once a vibrant spiritual home to Glenwood Springs Catholics, St. Stephen’s Church stands empty now. Gone are the pews, the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, the Stations of the Cross, the stained glass windows, the sanctuary light and candles. What once held hundreds of worshippers every weekend since the early 1940s is a cavernous room begging to be filled up. But instead of seeing empty space, Catholic Charities West Slope director Tom Zieman sees endless possibilities.Catholic Charities purchased the old St. Stephen’s Church, at 1004 Grand Ave., which was vacated when a new church was completed last November for $650,000. Money for the purchase came from a $300,000 grant from the private Catholic Foundation. The remainder was financed through a mortgage.While Catholic Charities was interested in purchasing the building when it came on the market last year, the selling price of $1.2 million put it out of reach. Then the church office building was sold in the fall of 2003, and Zieman said he watched the price of the church drop from $850,000 to $750,000 and finally to $650,000.Recently, a group of actors from the Crystal Palace in Aspen tried to buy the church to use as a dinner theater, but the deal fell through when they could not secure funding.Zieman said that the church placed a deed restriction on the sale of the building that would have prohibited “immoral plays or anything degrading to the original purpose of the building” from being performed. “The buyer had no problem with that.”The church is 6,000 square feet with two levels – downstairs is a meeting hall and kitchen. It will also need some renovations such as new electrical wiring and an upstairs bathroom.Depending on how much revenue the organization will need in the coming years, the old church could see a new life as an art gallery, a craft vendors mall, or a second hand furniture store. All of those possibilities could bring in money for the organization that helps the poor, immigrants and the homeless.”We’ve been talking about having a vendor mall,” Zieman said of his 12-member board that oversees the charity. “We would rent out space and tourists could come and browse through it.” Money might not be an issue, however.”Each year by the grace of God we’ve raised our revenues,” Zieman said.Catholic Charities opened an office in Glenwood Springs and Avon in January 2000.Donations, as well as federal, state and local grants, raise operating money, which amounted to $392,000 last year. Zieman has also received donations of good-quality used furniture that he’s sold, but he could see selling it out of the old church building. Recently he received a donation of like-new, high-quality furniture from a four-bedroom condo upvalley.”They were high dollar items,” he said. “We made between $17,000 and $18,000 on it.”He also sees the church going back to its roots as a wedding or funeral chapel.If the charity doesn’t need use the church to generate revenue, it could open its doors to other local service agencies or expand its own services.”One of the things we’ve been talking about is adoption services,” Zieman said. “Catholic Charities typically does that kind of work.””The bottom line is this church was built for worship, and also, from a Catholic standpoint, it was built to give glory to God,” he said. “For me this isn’t just a building, it’s a gift from God.”Zieman and his board don’t want to make the decision alone, however.”We’re definitely interested in getting public feedback about what would be the best use of the building,” he added.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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