Newsong Church Retreats From Sale of Santora Arts Building

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The Irvine-based Newsong Church has pulled out of its deal to buy the historic Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana, Voice of OC has confirmed.

On Monday a church leader informed the downtown artists group United Artists of Santa Ana that the church was terminating escrow on the building, which anchors an eclectic area in the downtown known as Artists Village.

In a message to congregants, church leaders stated they killed the deal because “after extensive due diligence efforts” they could not come to terms with current building owner Michael Harrah.

“As a result, we have determined that it is in the best interests of NEWSONG to terminate escrow and continue exploring other options,” the message read.

Harrah did not return a call for comment.

News in April of the Santora’s potential sale to Newsong created an outcry from downtown artists and others who feared that church leaders would stifle their freedom of expression and boot artists out of the building. That fear was stoked by a Facebook post from Newsong Lead Pastor Dave Gibbons, which stated that the church had plans for a meeting hall seating more than 300 in the building.

According to Gibbons’ post, Harrah said the church would face little resistance from City Hall on their plans. But city officials maintained that the building has historic designations that protected it from development.

When faced with resistance from not only artists but also downtown business owners, Newsong leaders insisted they just wanted to save the building from corporate interests that would erase the building’s artistic character. But the artists weren’t mollified, and some threatened angry street protests if the sale went through.

There seemed a collective sigh of relief Monday as word of the terminated deal spread throughout Artists Village.

“While we felt that the sale of the building to a religious group would not be a good fit for the Santora, we respect Newsong’s leadership for understanding the validity of our concerns,” said Alicia Rojas, a leader of the artist group.

The artists “will continue to partner with the city and other business and civic leaders to form a Santora Steering Committee that will seek an arts-friendly investor who will secure the historic building’s future as an anchor for arts-based revitalization in the heart of Santa Ana.”

Harrah is selling the Santora and other buildings he owns to raise money for the construction of One Broadway Plaza, a 37-story commercial tower planned near the downtown core.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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