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With paperwork signed, Massena chamber prepares for move

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MASSENA - Paperwork that was signed on Tuesday afternoon officially paves the way for the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce to move later this year into the Adath Israel Synagogue at the corner of West Orvis and Church streets.

“We’re excited and have a lot of good ideas. It’s going to be fun. You’re invited back anytime,” chamber Executive Director Michael J. Gleason told congregation President Judith Witek, congregation Vice President Lenore Levine and Miriam Catapano during the paperwork signing to transfer the deed at the synagogue.

Mr. Gleason, Ms. Witek and chamber President Eric J. Gustafson signed the paperwork that transfers ownership of the synagogue to the chamber for $1. The synagogue’s congregation had offered to donate the building to the chamber for $1, and the village’s planning board has already approved the plan.

“We knew the chamber was looking for a new home. Around the time our congregation was downsized because people were moving away. We wanted to building to be utilized in a way that benefited the community and the congregation. What better use than of the building than to have a group maintain the integrity and keep the building open to the community. This gives them a beautiful new home,” Ms. Catapano said.

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

Members of the Emmanuel Congregational Church of Christ moved back into the synagogue on a temporary basis after fire ripped through their church in 2007. The synagogue has sat vacant since 2009 when the Emmanuel congregation moved back into their renovated facility.

Although the Massena synagogue has not been active, members of the congregation have been in Potsdam, according to Ms. Witek.

“They have a very active community in Potsdam. They very, very graciously welcomed us. They very graciously made us feel like one of the community,” she said. “We have been fortunate to have Potsdam for many, many years.”

Ms. Catapano said that, although the chamber will now be moving their offices in the building, it will always be their synagogue. The lettering and Star of David on the outside of the building will be removed and donated to Congregation Beth El in Potsdam.

“By them being here we don’t lose our identity,” she said.

The chamber’s current 50 Main St. location has posed several issues, including a lack of space and a foreclosure by St. Lawrence County because of back taxes. The chamber has been actively seeking a new home for nearly three years.

Now they’ll get that opportunity, though it may be a few months, Mr. Gustafson said.

“Summer is the busy season at the chamber. We’re anticipating a couple of months” before the move, he said, noting some maintenance issues would need to be addressed at their new location before moving in, most likely the first part of autumn.

Mr. Gustafson said they’ll be able to take advantage of a much larger space which, in addition to offices, can also be used to sell Massena-related items and act as a public gathering space for the summer concert series if it’s forced inside, training, educational opportunities and other chamber-sponsored events.

“The idea is it’s a tremendous community asset. We plan on using this for chamber events and other community gatherings,” he said.

The chamber president said they hope that, with the chamber’s move, the owners of the Sunrise Mall - currently St. Lawrence County - will have the flexibility and opportunity to renovate that space.

“It was a priority of the chamber to stay downtown and we have. We had an opportunity to take over a storied building and maintain it as a community asset. I can’t think of a better role for the chamber to play. I don’t think it in any way diminishes downtown. It’s an opportunity for a retail-type business to occupy the former chamber space,” he said.

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