MAYFAIR'S Devon Theater will go from theatrical dream to theological reality on Tuesday if the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment allows Kingdom Life Christian Center to turn the live entertainment venue into a church.
After a long, heated debate last week, the Mayfair Civic Association voted not to oppose the theater's religious use.
The vote came after the church agreed to run a food delivery service instead of a food bank, and an after-school program instead of a day-care center.
"That was a huge game changer," said Donny Smith, president of the Mayfair Civic Association.
"Unfortunately," he said, "food banks, as good hearted as they are, bring people parking in neighbors' driveways and throwing trash on the ground.
"We already have a large food bank in Mayfair," he said. "It's well run, but the problems are ongoing."
Smith said Mayfair doesn't need another day-care center. "We already have 11 day cares with capacity for 575 kids," he said. "It's like, 'Come to Mayfair! City of Day Cares!'
"You're not going to pick up your kid from day care and then go into the Grey Lodge Pub and grab a burger and a beer," Smith said. "And nobody's going to a food bank and then going into Tony's Place for a pizza."
Smith said residents wanted the 1946-era movie house, on Frankford Avenue near Barnett Street, to be a live entertainment center that would revitalize the business district by attracting customers.
But despite the Devon's multi-million dollar makeover in 2009, failed attempts to fill it with live music and drama rendered it a state-of-the-art, abandoned theater with 400 seats and a great sound system.
Economic hard times forced the Mayfair Community Development Council to return the Devon to the bank in lieu of foreclosure in 2010.
The bank sold it to a developer last year for $487,500, well below its $1.5 million market value, and the developer sold it to the Kingdom Life Christian Center in December, which began using it as a church although it is not zoned for religious assembly.
The church will go before the zoning board on Tuesday to ask for a special exception.
"Everybody wanted to see the arts come back to Mayfair," Smith said. "Having the building turned into a church was a great disappointment to a lot people."
Joseph DeFelice, president of the Mayfair CDC, said a church "in the largest and one of the most expensive buildings on our commercial corridor won't bring commerce to the avenue."
Smith agreed. "It's not what all the neighbors wanted but we did the best we could," he said. "The church said they'd work with us to bring the arts back into the Devon. Hopefully, that will happen."