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Bethel AME Church leaders demand update on finalized land agreement

Bethel AME Church leaders demand update on finalized land agreement
Bethel AME Church leaders demand update on finalized land agreement 03:04

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Bethel AME Church leaders are demanding an update on a finalized joint land agreement from the city and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pastor Dale B. Snyder is calling for reparations from the city after their original church was demolished as part of an urban renewal project back in the mid-50s to make room for the Civic Arena. The church has been working to get its original land back after nearly 70 years.

"My congregation gave me one order and one order only. Get our land back and our development rights back. That's what we've been doing since day one," Snyder said.   

Snyder said both the city of Pittsburgh and the Penguins have been stalling on the negotiations.

"We've been waiting for almost 70 years, how long do we have to wait?" Snyder said after a service on Friday.

Bethel AME Church was a staple in the Lower Hill for decades and was one of nine churches or synagogues torn down to make way for the Civic Arena. It was the only one with a predominately Black congregation.  

"We were a historic church doing good in the neighborhood for the people that we served, and they took our citadel of hope in an egregious way," Snyder said.  

The church then lost two-thirds of its congregation when it moved to its current smaller home on Webster Avenue. Snyder has been meeting with the Penguins and URA about getting the land back and development rights to their original church site for about two years.  He said talks were going well and then stopped in October after he got a survey done.  

"We don't need a presentation. Give us our land and our development rights back. Once we have that we will entertain any other negotiations you want to present to us," Snyder said.  

Fellow pastors from around the region echoed Snyder's plea Friday inside the current Bethel AME building.  

"As your friend and your brother in Christ, it's time to seek justice with you," said Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  

The Penguins provided this statement: 

"While Penguins came into existence over a decade after Bethel AME was relocated in the 1950s, we have been working, in good faith, with Bethel AME, the Mayor's office and the public authorities to pursue a historic and restorative development opportunity together.  It was one of 9 churches and synagogues that were demolished in the Lower Hill.  The original location of the former church has been confirmed, which is partially under the rebuilt road and unable to be developed. " 

Along with getting their original land back, the church is also calling for the lost revenue on the money made on their former property.  

"What we want them to do is do what they said they were going to do, correct an egregious wrong. We can still create a win-win for the city of Pittsburgh and our members who are still alive," Snyder said. 

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