As he looks at the historic American Legion building on Main Street in Paris, the Rev. Wesley Hammond sees a new community center in Monroe County to reach young people, expand the church’s mission and help the community.

As he looks at the historic American Legion building on Main Street in Paris, the Rev. Wesley Hammond sees a new community center in Monroe County to reach young people, expand the church’s mission and help the community.

He and his congregation will get a chance to make that vision a reality.

Last week, the Paris First Baptist Church submitted the high bid for the American Legion building last week, and after a negotiation, the church signed an agreement to purchase the building. The sale is expected to close within the next 30 days.

“We want a place where get people engaged .. youth after school, a place where kids can go,” Hammond said.

The sale of the building, which American Legion Post 221 has owned for 55-plus years, is bittersweet for members. With a dwindling list of active members and a limited treasury, and with major maintenance issues looming, selling the building was the only prudent option for the past.

Many members of the American Legion post attended the bid-opening, all wearing their caps – covers as they are called in the organization - and most were wearing white uniform shirts. Members of the eventual winner First Baptist Church were present, as was Paris Mayor James Buckman.

At precisely 10 a.m., Paris attorney Richard Fredrick, who volunteered his services to the American Legion for the sale, presented three sealed envelopes to American Legion Post Commander Lloyd Miller.

“Let’s get started,” Miller said.

After opening the three envelopes, the First Baptist Church was the high bidder, although its initial bid was below what the American Legion post members had established as the minimum acceptable price. When asked if any bidders wanted to offer a higher price, there was no answer. The church and American Legion moved to Fredrick’s law office to complete negotiations.

The church agreed to pay the minimum price of $10,000, and the process has now started to transfer ownership.

During a meeting the night before the sale, Miller told post members that many in the community had expressed concerns to him that a buyer might demolish the building.

“I understand their concerns, and I hoped it would not be torn down, but once the building sold, we have no control,” he said. “It is not easy to do this…we have members who have worked hard on the building. It is not a happy day for them.”

Miller said that he and post members are relieved that the church plans to overhaul facility.

“If they do everything we discussed, I would be very happy,” said Miller. “I have faith and trust in hat we heard from the church. This building means a lot to our community, and to see it continue is what we wanted.”

Hammond said the church spend much of the last month inspecting the building, bringing in people to look at the condition of the roof, air conditioning units, flooring and structural integrity. The consensus was the building can be refurbished.

He estimates that with volunteer labor the church can overhaul the building for around $40,000 to $50,000 - $20,000 along for the heating and air conditioning system. And, he said, the church plans to continue using the commercial-quality kitchen in the building.

Hammond says the new facility is needed to help bring people together in the community and fulfill the church’s mission.

“What we need to do is engage the next generation who will become the First Baptist Church, and need to engage the community,” he said. “