STAMFORD — In an effort to curtail recurring budget deficits, the First Congregational Church in Stamford is hoping to sell its downtown home of over 100 years.

At a meeting held on June 24, members of the congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of selling the property at 1 Walton Place to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which currently has a location on Peveril Road in Stamford. According to the church’s monthly newsletter, the final vote to sell to the Coptic Church was 41 in favor, 4 opposed, and 3 abstained.

Negotiations between the two churches appear to be in the early stages, though the Coptic Church offered $3.3 million for the entire 0.8-acre site, according to a letter released by an ad-hoc planning group within the First Congregational Church.

The letter states that the church building and land have a market value of $3.5 million to $4 million, based on offers received. The property has a much higher value according to the city of Stamford’s assessor’s office, which assessed the building and land at $6.45 million in 2017, with an appraised value of $9.2 million.

The potential sale would allow First Congregational, which has been in Stamford for over 350 years, to move on from the Walton Place location and find a space more suited to its congregation, which has become too small for the downtown church.

Nonetheless, multiple members of First Congregational stated that the deal between the two churches has yet to be finalized. No members of the church leadership, including Pastor Todd Yonkman, agreed to comment for this story.

“We have no comment because no deal has been finalized,” Yonkman wrote in an email. “If/when a deal is finalized, we will have a public statement that we will be happy to share.”

Father Andrew Awad of the Stamford Coptic Church did not respond to multiple efforts to reach him by telephone and email.

No matter what happens with the potential sale, it seems that First Congregational’s time at the Walton Place location is drawing near, as budgetary concerns mount. Over the last 15 years, the church has faced an average annual deficit of $44,000, according to a letter from the church’s planning group. Last year, the deficit ballooned to over $146,000.

The letter states that the church’s board of trustees came to the conclusion that the church would need to generate an additional $150,000 a year in income to get out of its financial hole.

The church does have a $2 million endowment fund, but church leaders are hesitant to use more than 4 percent of those funds annually, out of fear of seriously depleting the resource.

Because of the financial constraints, the church leadership has looked into multiple ways to recoup some money, including renting space, and merging with another church. But neither solution would seemingly provide the church with the needed funds to control its budget shortfall.

Therefore, the decision was made to sell the property, which had grown too big for the dwindling size of the congregation. The letter from the planning group states that the current building “is much larger than what we need or can find uses for with a smaller congregation today, while we have fewer members financially supporting an aging, oversized building.”

The granite Walton Place church, right in the heart of Stamford’s downtown, was constructed in 1912, and has three floors. The total square footage of the building is 35,000.

First Congregational received multiple offers to buy the church, including two from developers and one from a nonprofit that provides low income housing. Ultimately, the congregation chose the offer from the Coptic Church.

With the possible sale, the future of First Congregational is unclear, though there does appear to be a plan for the church to rent space as needed in the short term for worship and office use. In one of the church’s weekly newsletters, Yonkman mentioned the Avon Theatre, Stamford High School, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Stamford as possible worship locations.

However, the congregation is planning on remaining at the Walton Place location for at least a year after the possible sale of the building.

Other church sales

Earlier this year, the Zion Lutheran Church in Stamford sold their former 24,000 square foot home at 132 Glenbrook Road to Pentecostal Mission John 3:16 for just under $3.2 million.

The highest price paid for religious property in Stamford in the last 30 years was the almost $6.2 million exchanged between Stamford developer RMS Cos. and Congregation Agudath Sholom. The arrangement allowed RMS to construct a number of single family homes and townhouses on the 4.5-acre lot at 159 Colonial Road.

Ignacio Laguarda is a freelance writer. Email him at ilaguarda@yahoo.com