AUBURN — The city is searching for a way to rescue St. Louis Church.
City officials have talked with Roman Catholic leaders, toured the grand-but-shuttered church and talked to at least one private developer about investing in the 98-year-old New Auburn landmark.
"You just can't build buildings like that anymore," Alan Manoian, an economic development specialist with the city, said. The church's scale, its use of brick and its reaching-to-the-heavens design all make it a building deserving of saving, he said.
"If this building is not sacred, no building in Auburn is sacred," he said.
However, the building's fate seems gloomy.
Last fall, an analysis by Auburn's Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish assessed the condition of the 80 Third St. building. It found several structural problems. The parish committee and the statewide Roman Catholic diocese estimated repairs would cost more than $1 million.
Issues included large cracks down a tower, cracks in a concrete overhang and a deteriorating stone crown on the roof. Earlier this year, three of the church's four spires were removed due to structural worries.
Finally, when a crack appeared near the front doors, the parish closed the church.
It has remained closed since April.
The parish’s Finance and Pastoral Councils have recommended that the church be deconsecrated and torn down at a cost of around $120,000. No formal decision has yet been made.
Roland Miller, Auburn's director of economic development, holds out hope that the church might yet be saved.
"We're hopeful that we're going to be able to attract some private party interest who, perhaps, could help the diocese avoid a large cost in demolition," he said.
At least one developer has been looking the place over.
"The private party has been doing some investigation," Miller said. "We've requested some information regarding utility costs associated with the church. And that's where it sits right now."
There's an emotional tug, too.
Though Miller had been to the church's basement meeting hall many times, he never visited the upstairs nave until this spring. He marveled at the stained glass, the columns and the finely detailed woodwork.
"It's an awesome church," he said.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he would have a hard time imagining the New Auburn cityscape without St. Louis. His parents and grandparents were married there.
"It's a cultural center for the neighborhood," he said. "It has an important place in the fabric of the neighborhood."
But he worries that the market for property in the area might limit how it might be reused.
Either way, Manoian holds out hope for the grand Neo-Gothic structure.
"If any building in Auburn is sacred, that one is," he said. "It's not about Auburn. It's not even about Maine. It's a national treasure."