After years of minimal maintenance, Italian tenants of Copşa Mare's beautiful Lutheran parish house are required to invest in its restoration. Hallelujah!
The parish house in Copşa Mare (pictured above, in front of the fortified church), is owned by the Lutheran Church of Romania, and managed by its Mediaș diocese. It is a beautiful building in a magical setting, but with no congregation in the village, its original purpose has been lost.
The tenants of the building - a company owned by Paolo and Giovanna Bassetti, property developers from Italy who through this company own over a dozen houses in the village and some 30 hectares of farmland that they do not farm - have been renting the property from the church authorities since 2013 in the expectation that they will eventually be able to buy it. They use the former parish house as a warehouse, and very occasionally, as a venue for summer garden parties. The tenants have repaired broken roof tiles, fixed the gutters, and kept the grass cut, but the building has stood empty for the duration of their tenancy, now in its ninth, barren year.
My wife and I thought this a waste, and so, in the summer of 2018, we submitted an offer to rent the property ourselves when the tenants' second, 3 year lease was due to expire in July 2019. We undertook to invest a minimum of EUR 25,000 and a maximum of EUR 35,000 in the conservation of the building, within the first twelve months of the lease, and to pay EUR 200 a month in rent, in exchange for a 10 year lease of the property. We hoped to establish a school of botanical illustration in the building, and to plant the grounds with the remarkably diverse flora hereabouts. We committed ourselves to making the building suitable for daytime use in the warmer months, as a place of study and creativity. And we found support for our project among prominent botanists and botanical artists with links to Romania.
The quality of our plans for the building and its proposed use counted for nothing with the diocese. It was money that mattered, explained the acting dean, Ulf Ziegler. Our offer to invest up to EUR 35 000 of our own money in the building, and to pay an additional EUR 24 000 in rent over 10 years, was inadequate.
In May 2019, shortly before the lease of the property developers was due to expire, we received a letter, reproduced below, signed by the acting dean. Addressed to us and to Giovanna Bassetti, the existing tenant, the dean explained that the building needed a minimum of EUR 90,000 to make it sound, and that the church would be willing to cover half the cost itself, but only if the new tenant agreed to cover the other half over 5 years, and to pay a further EUR 18,000 in rent over the same period. If these conditions were met, the lease would be extended for another 5 years. Ulf Ziegler stressed that the building is not, and shall never be, for sale.
We considered Ziegler's terms too one-sided and withdrew our offer. Soon after, we were told by the dean that the property developer had agreed in principle to the new terms.
Nothing much happened to the building in the intervening three years. New guttering and drainpipes were mounted in 2020, window shutters were restored in 2021, and a stable wall repointed and plastered in late 2022.
But apparently substantial restoration works are set to begin in 2023. It appears that our intervention had allowed the church authorities to drive a much harder bargain with the Bassettis, who have been determined to prevent us from taking over the building, perhaps not at all costs, but at a very considerable cost to themselves. Not a bad result, all things considered. We had fun putting our project together and made new friends along the way. The money we would have invested in the church's property was used instead to create a school of botanical illustration on our own property. And as far as the church authorities are concerned, the developer's money is just as good as ours.
What matters is that the parish house shall finally get the major investment it needs to survive for the next generation or two.
The final terms of the lease between the church and the Bassettis are private, with important details such as the future use of the building and the length of the lease a secret. However, it seems highly improbable that the Italians will now be allowed to buy the building and the land in which it sits, not least because the church complex to which the parish house belongs is being restored these days as well, with money raised among the Lutheran families from the village now living in Germany.
For details of how you can support this initiative, please contact Sabine Reither at Pro Groß Kopisch e.V. - HOME (progrosskopisch.com)