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Massena chamber to move into former synagogue

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MASSENA — The Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce’s new home will be in one of downtown’s oldest buildings, one with a storied past.

The chamber is planning to move into the Adath Israel Synagogue at West Orvis and Church streets. The synagogue’s congregation has offered to donate the building to the chamber for $1, according to chamber board President Eric J. Gustafson.

The village Planning Board approved the proposal at a meeting on Wednesday night.

“It’s a wonderful, beautiful, historic facility,” Mr. Gustafson said. “The chamber will find a use for it.”

The synagogue offices offer more space than the chamber’s current location at 50 Main St., according to chamber Executive Director Michael JGleason.

“We’re busting at the seams right now,” he said.

The former worship area will be used as a public gathering space, Mr. Gustafson said. The spot could be used as a rain-out location for the village’s summer concert series in Veterans Park, and for training, educational opportunities and other chamber-sponsored events.

The deed transfer to the chamber is scheduled for Tuesday and the move will happen by winter, Mr. Gleason said. The synagogue is still in “great shape” and will require little work for the move-in.

Mr. Gleason thanked the Jewish congregation for its hard work.

“It’s a very generous offer from them,” Mr. Gleason said of the donation.

The state attorney general’s office and Supreme Court have already approved the building’s re-designation away from religious uses, Mr. Gustafson said.

The lettering and Star of David on the outside of the building will be donated to Congregation Beth El in Potsdam.

The structure dates back to 1844, when it was built as the Emmanuel Congregational Church of Christ. The synagogue took over the space after the Emmanuel congregation moved into a new church on West Orvis Street in the 1920s.

When a fire ripped through the Congregational church in 2007, Emmanuel members began reusing the synagogue space, which was no longer actively used by Adath Israel.

The synagogue has sat vacant since 2009, when Emmanuel members relocated back to their rebuilt church.

The owners of Halleujah House Christian bookstore and cafe had proposed to move to the building last year, but that plan never came to fruition.

The move will end a nearly three-year search for a new location, Mr. Gleason said. St. Lawrence County foreclosed on the building currently housing the chamber last year, and asbestos and roof problems plague that structure.

“The full board has been very involved in finding places and looking for leads,” Mr. Gleason said. “It secures the future of the chamber.”

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