Four brothers are planning to convert the School Street United Methodist Church in Gorham into restaurants, stores and an event center.

The four brothers investing in the church – Michel, Angelo, Anthony and Marco Salvaggio – believe the enterprise could generate up to $1.5 million in sales annually.

Members of the church planned to vote on the sale at 7 p.m. tonight, Oct. 26. The sale would enable the church, which has been in that location for 125 years, to build a new $1.7 million church. The church has been on the market for five years.

“We’re pretty enthusiastic it’s going to happen,” said Dennis Morton, a church trustee.

A letter submitted last week to Gorham’s planning department identifies the Salvaggios, Four Brothers LLC, as prospective buyers.

The brothers did not return messages seeking comment, left through a realtor and one of the brothers, last week.

In a preliminary proposal, they outlined their plans for the property. A remodeled church could include a restaurant, pizza house, coffee shop, offices and retail space, as well as a “wellness center” that could offer yoga, tanning, manicures and a hair salon.

Plans would also include an event center in the present church for social gatherings, weddings, seminars and business functions, according to the letter.

They estimated the remodeled church could generate between $750,000 and $1.5 million in sale annually. In the letter, they also estimated 30 to 50 people could be employed there.

The church had dropped its original asking price a year ago from $495,000 to $390,000, according to a story in the American Journal. Four Brothers LLC estimated their financial investment to be between $600,000 to $800,000, including purchase of the property.

Rev. Linwood Arnold, church pastor, announced news of the agreement from the pulpit on Sunday. “We have a contract on the church,” Arnold told his congregation.

Church trustees have already approved a contract with the prospective buyers. “It’s exciting. We’ve waited to get on with the project for so long,” Morton said recently, believing parishioners would approve the contract.

Even after full approval from the church, the deal would hinge on the buyers getting permits from the town to convert the church building. “It would definitely take Planning Board approval,” said Deborah Fossum, Gorham’s planner.

A ‘wide-sweeping’ proposal

Tom Ellsworth, president of the Gorham Economic Development Corporation, said the proposal would offer services and shopping opportunities to the citizens of Gorham. “It’s a wide-sweeping proposal and an exciting opportunity for the village,” Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth said the plans for an event hall creates a new service that he isn’t aware exists now. He said the location is well positioned to draw from the university, and he added that the sale of the building would meet the needs of the church.

Reuse of the historic church, built in 1880, would add another business onto Gorham tax rolls. “It’s a win situation for the church and the town,” Morton said. “We’re enthusiastic the town will approve.”

The church lacks off-street parking. That lack of parking has been a stumbling block for the sale of the church in the past.

However, Morton said the church had a traffic and parking study done and results indicated that a restaurant would generate less traffic. Up to 150 parishioners now attend a Sunday morning worship service. Throughout the week, the church has also housed a daycare center, a well baby clinic, food pantry and a meeting place for scout groups besides funerals and weddings. The proposed use would be less of an impact, according to Morton.

Church ready to move

The church has been planning a new $1.7 million building on 12 acres at the corner of Cressey Road and Route 25. The site is close to where a Gorham bypass would intersect with Route 25 west of Gorham Village. Arnold said their new location would be more visible and more accessible.

“It’s exciting. We’ve been excited before and developed the patience of Job,” the pastor said of the wait.

A model of a new building called for a glass entry with a 400-seat sanctuary, 150 more seats than in the present church. Parishioners including children nearly filled the present church’s old wooden pews Sunday. The project would include a multi-purpose fellowship hall with an office and library. A 1,300-pound church bell has been removed from the tower and is in storage.

Arnold said they’ve remained faithful as that faith has been tested. “We’ve been praying for a long time that God would do it sooner than later,” he said.

Morton said the buyer has offered to rent the building back to the church for a year with an option for another six months, allowing the congregation construction time.

The church has been an integral part of the lives of those who have attended it. A lifelong parishioner, Doris Bridges, and her children were baptized there, and she was married in the church. “It’s been a sweet thing,” Bridges said.

Her sister, Ruth Ayers, who celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary in the church in 2002, feels it’s time to build. “Most of the congregation realizes it’s time to move on where there’s plenty of parking,” said Ayers, who lives on School Street nearby the present church.

The proposal for reuse of the historic church was sent to Fossum by PO-GO Realty in Gorham. “We currently have the Methodist church under contract, and I wanted to introduce the potential buyers and their proposal to you so that they can initiate the planning process,” realtors Jeffrey Mason and Peter Mason wrote.

School Street United Methodist Church on School Street in Gorham Village.

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