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Central United Church plan unveiled

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Troy Shantz

The new owner of Central United Church has big plans for the downtown landmark, and that includes keeping the historic sanctuary and pipe organ.

London-based Xoana Corporation intends to renovate and convert the former church at 220 George St. into as many as 15 apartments and four or five commercial units.

The company also intends to keep the large open sanctuary, exterior brickwork, and famed 2,771-pipe church organ, operations lead Anthony Mota told The Journal.

“We really appreciate the old architecture and the unique properties that churches offer. In general, we would like to keep the main sanctuary as close as possible to the way it is.”

The sale of the church and its 1.6 acres closed Nov. 31. While the final sale price isn’t known the building and land had been listed for $369,000 in 2019.

Mota said he was floored when Sarnia realtor and broker Kenn Poore showed him the church.

“For the size of the building, it was a very good deal,” he said.

Pending city rezoning, the multi-phase project would create 10 to 15 accessible apartments in the building’s north side, which was added in the 1950s.

The apartments will be geared to mature tenants, Mota said.

Four or five commercial units will be created below the secondary sanctuary, spaces ideal for massage therapists or similar type businesses, he said.

Central United Church. Troy Shantz

The sanctuary of the 132-year-old church can be used to stage performances and other events, he said.

“There may not be that great of a need, (but) from the sanctuary we’re not looking to make that much money,” Mota said. “As long as we can do a break-even thing and sort of provide a service, we’re OK with that.”

He hopes the enormous organ built by the world-renowned Casavant Frères Company will rumble to life again one day.

When the building went up for sale the organ’s fate was uncertain.

Installed in 1898 and expanded in 1930, the instrument has

pipes ranging from one-to-16 feet in length and is the largest pipe organ in the immediate three-county area. Building it today would cost well over $1 million, said Ian Mason, a member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

Though demand is soft now, such a massive instrument would have drawn numerous offers 30 years ago, Mason said.

At Central United’s final church service in November, Juno-winning organist Ian Sadler performed several numbers for congregation members and special guests.

One of the hymns played was ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,’ which was also heard during the organ’s dedication ceremony on Sept. 30, 1898.

Xoana Corporation was formed six years ago by owner Bonnie Brown and began by renovating and selling buildings, Mota explained.

Central United is the third property it plans to keep. A future phase will see the exterior brickwork and facade restored, he said.

The congregation of Central United held its final service on Nov. 14 before moving to Dunlop United Church.

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