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Historic Albany church considered for a restaurant and brewery

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ALBANY, N.Y. - A historic church that has stood in Albany since 1860 is being considered for a brewery.

St. Joseph's Church, located in the Ten Broeck neighborhood in Albany, has been vacant for more than 30 years, but interest from a New Jersey brewery is causing residents to protest its transformation.

The Historic Albany Foundation acquired St. Joseph's church in 2003 for one dollar and since then, the non-profit organization has been trying to find a re-use for the landmark cathedral.

While residents in the surrounding Ten Broeck Triangle agree the church needs to be preserved, they say a brewery completely goes against the grain of the neighborhood.

While the 17,000 square-foot structure is stable, it needs extensive repair and there no heating or plumbing.

"It's about $150,000 a year just to keep doing the repairs, you cannot let it sit," says Susan Holland, Executive Director of the Historic Albany Foundation.

Holland says there have been multiple ideas considered for re-development through the years, but nothing has panned out.

"Everybody's looked at it and said it wouldn't fit them, they could do something different, it costs too much money," says Holland. "In the old days with arts and community groups, you could get grants. In this day and age, it's not going to happen."

Until Ravens Head Brewing of New Jersey came into the picture.

Its owner says the church's proximity to the state buildings combined with its historic nature drew his interest.

But residents in and around the church simply say it doesn't fit.

"I don't think people would stay here, I think they would move out," says Mimi O'Neill, the president of the Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League. "Who would want to live across the street from a brewery?"

"Everyone seizes on that term brew pub, but won't look at it as a restaurant within a very unique venue," says Brennon Cleary, one of the owners of Ravens Head Brewing.

Cleary says he cares deeply for the preservation of the church.

"If it ultimately goes against us, then it's going to be up to that neighborhood to preserve it," says Cleary.

But residents worry about the effect of a restaurant in the middle of a neighborhood.

"The real issue is, do we engage with a usage that irrevocably changes the neighborhood, or do we perhaps dig deeper here in the community?" asks O'Neill.

"We would not have taken it on in 2003 and owned it, had we not thought we could eventually sell it, re-develop it, and give it to someone for another use," says Holland.

The commissioner of development and planning for the city of Albany says a decision about the zoning of the church is not expected to come before the new year.

Right now it is zoned for residential use, so before any plans can move forward with the brewery, it has to be approved for commercial use.

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