A former Methodist church near may soon be converted into a mosque and community center. The Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica, N.Y., met with Mayor David Roefaro earlier this month to explore any available sites that might fit its growing congregation’s needs.
A former Methodist church near City Hall may soon be converted into a mosque and community center.
The Bosnian Islamic Association of Utica met with Mayor David Roefaro earlier this month to explore any available sites that might fit its growing congregation’s needs.
They are now discussing the possible sale of city-owned 306 Court St., the former Central United Methodist Church that’s being marketed by the Utica Urban Renewal Agency.
If a sale is approved by the Common Council, Utica would see its first mosque with minarets. Minarets are a recognized symbol of Islam in the same way that church steeples are for Christianity.
Elsewhere in the world, minarets are towers from which a mosque official known as a muezzin calls the Muslim faithful to prayer five times a day. Roefaro, however, said there would be no external call to prayer at the Bosnian mosque.
Not only would the potential sale help the Bosnian community establish a place of worship, it would save the city the cost of demolishing the former church, the mayor said.
No one has sought to purchase the abandoned building since the city took it over for $208 in unpaid water bills in 2006, he said.
“It would cost nearly a million dollars to demolish it,” Roefaro said.
Utica’s thousands of Bosnians form the largest refugee group in the city. Most are Muslims.
The association last year opened its own place of worship at Mary and Albany streets. Previously, Utica’s Bosnians had worshiped at the Muslim Community Association mosque on Kemble Street.
A third Shia mosque operates on Cornelia Street.
Leaders of the Bosnian Islamic Association said they would keep the Court Street building’s red brick façade as it is but would alter the top of the structure to construct the towers.
“They have to keep the structural integrity of it,” Roefaro said. “This is for a good cause. I would like to see it happen. The church is in a poor shape. I am happy that the community is looking at it.”
Roefaro said the association would have to put in an application to the Urban Renewal Agency. The Common Council would have to approve the sale. That process could take six months, he said.
Improvements would be funded through donations and would be done over a period of time if the association is able to acquire the site, said Dzevsad Dizdarevic, a member of the association and owner of Amy’s Grocery & Deli on South Street.
“The roof needs to be fixed,” Dizdarevic said. “We are in the process of doing the required paperwork.”
The building is the former site of Central United Methodist Church, which merged with Whitesboro United Methodist Church to create Trinity United Methodist Church in the 1990s.
It was sold to Word Faith Deliverance Ministries Inc. in 1998 for $50,000. but has sat empty for some time now.
The structure can accommodate up to 600 people easily, said Marguerite Edwards, of North Utica, who once attended the church.
Edwards said she was happy the church would remain a place of worship.
“Anything that promotes spirituality, it is only for the better,” she said. “They should have more diverse places to worship. It is an opportunity to learn. Their faith is not built on something wrong. I think it is wonderful.”