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Retail project may replace South Portland church; food pantry ready to move

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Retail project may replace South Portland church; food pantry ready to move

SOUTH PORTLAND — St. John the Evangelist Church has stood over Main Street in Thornton Heights for almost 75 years, but it may not withstand future retail development.

City Economic Development Director Jon Jennings on Wednesday said a potential buyer for the 611 Main St. church, which closed in September, has been discussing how to reuse the property, with an indication the church at 611 Main St. will be razed and replaced by a retail project.

Monsignor Michael Henchal, who oversees the cluster of Catholic churches in South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough that included St. John's, confirmed Wednesday there is an interested buyer.

"We are in waiting mode, the ball is fully in the buyer's court," Henchal said. Jennings and Henchal did not identify the potential buyer, but Henchal said he expects a deal to close by the end of the year.

The South Portland Food Cupboard, meanwhile, which has used the church basement since 2001, will be fully relocated to two sections of a warehouse at 130 Thadeus St. by early next month.

Executive Director Sybil Riemensnider said much of the moving will be done when the pantry shuts down Thanksgiving week.

Work to convert about 3,800 square feet of warehouse began about two weeks ago, Riemensnider said Wednesday. Washing and painting jobs was done by inmates of the Cumberland County Jail as part of a community service program, while Benjamin Moore provided paint and Lowe's donated light fixtures, kitchen cabinets and storage racks.

The new pantry is near the Hannaford Bros. distribution facility on Rumery Road. Riemensnider said she is pleased because the new pantry has overhead doors, so supply trucks can back in and access will be easier for clients with mobility issues.

The pantry was established in July 1997. It serves families and individuals from throughout the Portland area who live within 150 percent of federal poverty levels.

Riemensnider said the pantry served 114 people last week, and added 38 new families last month.

Pantry operating expenses will increase, because it will be charged rent for the first time, but Riemensnider said the pantry will receive some of the church sale proceeds, plus proceeds from a car sales promotion at Pape Subaru on Broadway.

The dealership will also host "turkey drives" on Nov. 23 and Dec. 14 to help feed pantry clients. Jennings said there will also be a food drive during the city Holiday Festival Dec. 6 at Mill Creek Park, and municipal employees will be able to have pantry donations deducted from paychecks after Jan. 1, 2014.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.