Nearly three years after a devastating fire closed Zion Lutheran Church, there’s hope for the Cobleskill landmark.
RJ Freitag, who lives in Cobleskill, and his partners plan to put a performance center, bar and restaurant in the Main Street church.
That’s assuming their deal to buy Zion Lutheran goes through. Better Spaces Realty listed the church at $299,000 in July 2022 and later reduced the price to $199,000.
The final price was $150,000, which is what the church was assessed at after the fire, according to Vern Hall, who represents the Lutheran congregation.
Mr. Freitag and the Lutherans have agreed on the deal, but a feasibility study must be completed, the Upstate Lutheran Synod must approve the sale, and the state Attorney General must do so, too.
“We have a deal, but we still have to go through the process,” said Tammy Silvestri-Putnam of Better Spaces Realty.
Mr. Freitag is confident that will happen, and he’s also confident he’ll get planning board and zoning approval.
A re-recording mixer for the final sound for TV and movies, Mr. Freitag works out of his historic Elm Street home that he’s also renovating.
The church is a much bigger job. The sanctuary ceiling is scorched from the fire, and rubble covers the floor.
But the building itself is sound.
“It’s a great, historic building,” Mr. Freitag said. “Someone needs to bring it back. It’s important to happen.”
His father, Steve Freitag, a Cobleskill contractor, will help with the work.
Mr. Freitag plans a performance center in the sanctuary, which will also feature a restaurant and bar.
Bringing in larger and medium touring acts is his goal.
“People here need something to do instead of driving to Albany for entertainment,” he said. “This can be a destination.
“I want it to be a fun place for everyone from college kids to people my dad’s age.”
Locally, the church could host theater groups and trivia and comedy nights, Mr. Freitag added.
He ran a bar for five years in his native Austin, Texas and has experience bringing in bands. His first act was Stevie Ray Vaughan, the late, great blues artist.
A performance center was Mr. Hall’s dream a year ago when he was trying to put together buyers.
“I think that’s cool,” Mr. Hall said of Mr. Freitag’s plans. “It’s something good for the community.
“The acoustics, even after the fire, are fantastic.”
Mr. Freitag has no figure for the renovation, only saying it will be “a lot.”
But he feels he and his partners, Noah Patterson and Chris Foster, can pull the funds together, and Mr. Freitag’s been discussing financing with the Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corporation.
His attachment to Cobleskill comes through his father.
“My dad moved here 18 years ago, and every time I’d come to visit, I liked the town a little more,” said Mr. Freitag, who moved here two years ago.
Approvals from the Synod and the Attorney General may take months. Mr. Freitag hopes to close on the church by the end of the year.
“We’re hoping for a Halloween [in 2024] opening,” he said. “That’s the goal. We’ll see how that works.”