West Allis - The only speaker at Tuesday's hearing on an Eastside Milwaukee church's plans to transform the former Paradise Theater into a sanctuary was a member of that congregation.
John Mortier of Greendale told the West Allis Common Council that the Epikos Church would "be a huge asset to the city."
Epikos, which has expanded rapidly since its inception in 2005, would bring vibrancy to the area, protecting property values and offering residents another choice for a place to worship, Mortier said.
The former theater at 6217 W. Greenfield Ave., would be a second location for the church, now located at 2308 E. Belleview Place. The church now has nearly 500 members, some of whom live in West Allis and other areas on the west side.
No one spoke against the church, and the city received no communications objecting, either, said John Stibal, city development director.
Working out more details
However, he asked the Common Council to delay a vote on granting special- use permits for two weeks while negotiations with the church continue.
For one thing, the city wants to come to an agreement about the church making a payment to the city in lieu of taxes, Stibal said. As a church, Epikos would not be subject to property taxes. Church officials have offered a payment in lieu of taxes, but the two sides need more time to talk.
To ensure the building is rehabilitated, West Allis is also asking the church for a $50,000 refundable performance guarantee, Stibal said. If the repairs are not made, the city could use the money for repairs or to carry out a raze order and condemnation procedure that has been hanging over the church for more than a year.
The city also is requiring that the doors and windows be replaced and that the replacement be in keeping with the historic nature of the building. Tuckpointing, fixing all code violations and removing a sign on the roof are additional requirements.
Although the building has no parking of its own, the church would meet the city's parking 182-spece parking requirement by a combination of public parking lots and leasing spaces from nearby Wells Fargo Bank, Stibal said.
The church will upgrade landscaping by cutting down some trees and putting out potted plants.
Church officials also want to operate a café/coffeehouse from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The 1929 theater, a landmark in the city, has stood vacant for two years, since a previous church group moved out. The Paradise has not been used for movies since 1996.
Because of the building's condition, it has been under a city repair or raze order.
But Stibal is cautiously optimistic.
"This is the best I've ever seen," he said, speaking of plans for the venerable building.
"I have high regards for their ability," he said of church officials.
The Plan Commission recommended council approval. A vote will likely come in two weeks.
THE NEXT STEP
WHAT: West Allis Common Council vote on special use permits for Epikos Church to use the former Paradise Theater for church services
WHEN: 7 p.m. May 31
WHERE: West Allis City Hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave.
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