Dow Closes on Former Church Property

Posted on 18 November 2011

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The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for Elizabeth Dow, but as of Monday morning at 11 a.m. at least one of the artist and businesswoman’s dreams came true. According to Dow’s attorney, Tiffany Scarlato at 11 a.m. on Monday Dow closed on the property that houses the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church with former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind at his attorney’s Southampton office.

The moment was over a year in the making, and for many residents of Sag Harbor, the end of a saga that began when the United Methodist Church congregation first sold the building to Suskind in 2008 under the financial strain of maintaining a historic church.

“This is the first step,” said Dow on Tuesday afternoon. “The light bill is in my name so hear we go.”

The closing of the $2.1 million sale comes just over a week after entrepreneur Sloan Schaffer announced he had signed a contract with Suskind to purchase the former church property. Unlike Dow, who will move her wall-covering studio and retail shop into the existing building, Schaffer said he hoped to convert the former church into his residence.

On Monday, Schaffer declined to comment on the closing of the sale.

Also on Monday, Suskind said Schaffer was “a back-up buyer” should Dow be unable to go through with the purchase of the Madison Street property.

“It is a common practice,” he added.

Dow has held the contract on the property since last fall. She has long planned to move Elizabeth Dow Mixed Media, a textile and wall covering design firm and studio into the building, which will also hold retail space, the company’s celebrated internship program and an apartment.

Quickly, Dow found community and government support for her plans, which village board members praised for the semi-public use of the treasured historic building, as well as the educational component it offers through her internship program.

Dow, who fittingly has a background in the restoration of 18th century buildings, has also said she will celebrate the history of the church. Her proposal changes almost nothing on the exterior of the building, except that it will once again be clad in wood rather than vinyl siding and will have an additional means of egress.

Dow also hopes to celebrate the church’s history in the lobby of her building, which she has explored cladding with custom made wallpaper depicting historic pictures of the former church building, newspaper articles and historic records. Dow has also proposed to commemorate the history of the building through a sign between the parking area and the entryway that details the history of the building since it was first moved from High Street.

The property is technically in a residential district in the village, however, last December, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees signed off on changing the zoning of the property to Village Business to allow Dow to operate her business in the space.

When the village board adopted the change in zoning, it did place covenant restrictions that will run with the land. The covenants protect the property from ever being developed into a convenience store, bar or tavern, laundromat, dry cleaning business, movie or live theatre, gym, yacht sales center or any kind of food service business.

That change in use won’t become official until Dow secures final approval from the village planning board, which is in the throes of reviewing her application along with the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

She will be in front of the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board, next Tuesday, November 22, at 5:30 p.m.

“I have a sense she really has a passion for this building,” said Suskind on Monday afternoon. “I have seen her describe it as ‘her life,’ so I think it is in good hands. Obviously, what I have always wanted is for the building to be in good hands and with someone who will care for it.”

“I wish her all the best,” he added. “I will be one of the first people in line when she opens.”

“It feels good,” said Dow shortly after the closing. “And I can’t wait to get started on this project.”

Dow said she is currently focused on the permit process and finishing up designs for the interior of the church building.

“I am in a little shock right now,” she admitted. “I almost can’t believe it is real yet.”


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