The last year has been somewhat of a whirlwind for artist and businesswoman Elizabeth Dow, who found a dream come true in the building that once housed the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church congregation. After securing a contract on the long-vacant property, Dow almost watched her dream slip through her fingers and into the hands of another, but triumphed and now is just steps away from opening her wall covering studio, retail showroom and internship program in the hallowed halls of the historic Madison Street building.
Just over a year after first securing the contract to purchase the former church property, in November Dow officially obtained the financing to close on the property with former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind.
For many Sag Harbor residents, who waited anxiously for years to learn the fate of the former church property, it marked 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.
While members in the community largely have embraced Dow’s plans to convert the church – without altering its exterior – into her wall covering business for two weeks this fall it remained uncertain whether or not Dow would actually take ownership of the property. This fall, entrepreneur Sloan Schaffer was announced as a second contract holder on the church property, however, Dow was able to secure financing during the last week her contract with Suskind was good, and now formally holds title on property.
Dow has held the contract on the property since the fall of 2010. 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 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. She is also considering commemorating 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 to Madison Street 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, the zoning board of appeals the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
“I have a sense she really has a passion for this building,” said Suskind shortly after the closing. “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.”
“It feels good,” said Dow the same day. “And I can’t wait to get started on this project.”