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Downtown New London to gain unique events venue

New London — Successful downtown restaurateur Rod Cornish wasn’t necessarily looking for a new business opportunity in the city.

But one found him.

His new venture comes in the form of an historic granite church at 157 Green St., where he’s planning a unique events venue.

Cornish purchased the vacant former Apostolic Cathedral of Hope, at the corner of Green and Starr streets, last month for $315,000 and is in the beginning stages of the work to transform the structure.

Three generations of Cornishes - Cornish’s father, brother and nephews - were at the building on Monday, setting up scaffolding and tearing away massive clumps of poison ivy. He expects it will be about a year before the place is up and running.

Cornish, 56, who opened Hot Rod Cafe 17 years ago, intends to call the new business Stone Temple Venue, which is a nod to one of his favorite rock bands of the 1990s, Stone Temple Pilots. It also lets people know right away what the place is all about, he said.

In a tour on Monday, Cornish pointed to the cathedral ceiling, exposed beams and imposing pipe organ on the church’s balcony and said he was “ hooked,” the first time he came in to take a look.

“It feels kind of good. It has some history to it, some stories. It’s not just … a rectangular box,” he said.

Cornish had been tipped off that the building was for sale by Starr Street resident and good friend Barbara Neff. Neff, who had already looked at the building, suggested a brew pub. Cornish said he sees a space that can fill an immediate need - weddings, banquets, brunches and other special events.

“This business is going to be so much different than what I do. There really has to be a need for what you’re doing and I think there is definite a need,” Cornish said.

He also recognizes that the structure sits along a stretch of road that is considered a gateway into New London with thousands of vehicles traveling past every day. As such, Cornish said his first order of business is ‘to make it look nice again.”

He plans to talk to the experts about how to configure the inside, where the floor is partially torn away from a stalled renovation project. Large church pews are lined up against the walls.

The building was constructed in 1881 as a Universalist Church and later became the Brainard Masonic Temple. The name of the masonic temple is still visible under the paint over the front entrance, which announces the Apostolic Cathedral of Hope.

Neff, who had a hand in connecting Cornish to his current location of Hot Rod Cafe at 114 Bank St. about 12 years ago, said she predicts success for Cornish.

“I think Rod is a great business owner and I think this will enhance the downtown. It will become a destination, it has parking and it brings the building back on the tax rolls,” Neff said.

G.smith@theday.com

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