By PETE WALTON
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has agreed to sell the First United Methodist Church building in Bradley Beach to the borough.
“I’m very happy to announce that an agreement has been reached for the acquisition of the Methodist Church property on LaReine Avenue from the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association,” Mayor Gary Engelstad said. “Special thanks go out to our council members, both current and future, as well as to [Bradley Beach Historical Museum President] Paul Neshamkin who spearheaded the petition in support. We obviously have a lot of work ahead of us but this is a great first step.”
Borough Administrator Kelly Barrett said the association and the borough were pleased to agree to “preserve this jewel” of the Jersey Shore.
Barrett said the parties had a “handshake deal” but the borough would not disclose the purchase price until the agreement was put in writing.
The administrator said that the borough must wait until its annual debt statement is compiled before the sale can be consummated. She said the borough hopes to be able to close on the transaction by the end of January.
The association had listed the property at 319 LaRaine Ave. for sale at an asking price is $1.29 million. A potential buyer made an offer, which was accepted and was being reviewed by attorneys.
However, when the petition drive started by Neshamkin drew support from more than 500 people, the Borough Council authorized its attorney to negotiate with the camp meeting association for the purchase of the building and the lot it stands on.
Neshamkin described the mayor’s announcement as “fantastic news.”
“Thanks to everyone who spoke up to save this wonderful building for borough use,” Neshamkin said. “Now let’s make it into a wonderful community center while saving its beautiful interiors.”
The building was last used as a church more than five years ago.
The church was previously known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Ocean Park. Ocean Park was Bradley Beach’s name when it was part of Neptune.
A legal dispute between the camp meeting association and the Neptune-based United Methodists of Greater New Jersey was settled out of court earlier this year. At issue was a reverter clause in the church’s original deed from the 1800s.
United Methodists of Greater New Jersey agreed not to contest the legality of the reverter clause in exchange for an unspecified donation from the camp meeting association.
The Borough Council is expected to conduct a detailed review of the condition of the building and the potential cost of making it usable for community purposes.
If the conversion is financially feasible, one possibility includes moving the borough’s senior center, historical museum and other offices to the church building. That could allow the creation of badly needed Main Street parking spaces where the Carmen A. Biase Senior Center now stands.