OLEAN, NY -- The sale of the Premier Banquet Center to Believers Chapel Church for $1.25 million is official.
On Dec. 8, the Olean Zoning Board of Appeals approved a variance permitting the sale after initially tabling a discussion on the vote in October.
The property, located at 2000 Constitution Drive, had been the site of the banquet center since 2003.
Paul and Lisa Marra, who built and operated the center for the last 13 years, had been trying to sell the property for over two years. According to records the Marras filed with the zoning board, their business had suffered losses in recent years and was not bringing in the revenue it had in early years of operation.
“Western New York is losing people, losing businesses, and our property taxes are too high,” Alderman Nate Smith, who knows the family, said. “New York always comes in a the top of the list for highest taxes, most regulation, and least business friendly. I link it right back to that.”
Sean Obergfell, lead pastor of the chapel, did not return requests for comment, but released a statement after the board approved the sale.
“We’re really excited right now about what this means for the church, what this means for Olean, and what this means for this area,” Obergfell said.
Believers Chapel has been getting more worshippers every year since services began in 2009 and had outgrown its current location at 2522 W. Five Mile Road in Allegany , according to Obergfell.
The sale still needs to go through a few more steps to become finalized, but Obergfell said that he hopes to move into the property and have services there by mid-2017.
Believers Chapel has services at 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. The zoning board said that traffic was not an issue in the decision because they felt that the church services would bring the same or less amount of cars as a wedding or a banquet did.
The main issue that the board had in approving the sale was that churches are tax-exempt; therefore, the city would be losing property tax revenue of close to $60,000 a year. Board members said that even with the loss of tax dollars, they were advised by their lawyers that there are federal and state laws that prohibit them from stopping such a sale to a church.
Kevin Dougherty, who sits on the Olean Common Council and owns a real estate company in the city, said he has mixed feelings about the decision, but understands why the deal went through.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Dougherty said. “This country was based on religious freedom, so you can’t stop anybody from putting a church anywhere. On the other end of the coin, having less of a tax base affects the community as a whole. But it’s that basic freedom that allows this country to be great, and it’s little things like this that are a reminder.”
Another member of the Common Council, Alderman Jerry LeFeber commented, “You always have to weigh the loss in tax revenue opposed to a positive impact that a church will have on a particular area or community.”
The Marras said they would wait to comment on the sale until the final paperwork was submitted, and that they have not yet set a date for the banquet center to cease operations.
Their decision to close the banquet center will force people planning large events to look elsewhere. According to LeFeber, the only other banquet facilities located in Olean are the Elks Lodge and the Old Library Events Center.