SAINT JOHN – Natasha Tobias and Paul Cooper plan to turn the former Cornerstone Baptist Church in Uptown Saint John into a venue for weddings and other events if Common Council agrees to rezone the property for commercial use.
Cooper and Tobias, owners and operators of Natasha’s Weddings and Events, organize more than 200 weddings a year. They live in Hampton and plan receptions and events at venues all over the Maritimes.
They have a sale agreement, which will proceed if the property is rezoned. If it goes through, Tobias and Cooper will make Cornerstone on Leinster Street the base of their operations and their home as well. There is an apartment in the church complex and space for an office for their planning business.
Tobias says Cooper originally encouraged her to establish her own venue. They had just met, and he saw how busy she was racing around to multiple venues every weekend during wedding season.
“For years I wanted my own venue,” she says. “A few years ago, when we first met, the first thing he said was, ‘Why are we travelling doing 15 weddings a weekend, setting up this one and tearing down this one, and we’re exhausted afterwards. We do eight to 15 events a weekend. We need our own venue.’ ”
Tobias, who lived on Leinster Street nearly 20 years ago, says the former Cornerstone church perfectly suits their needs and would require minimal renovations.
“We need to take out the pews, and they’re sold already,” she says. “We’ll also take out the wood panelling and expose the brick, and remove the stained glass. We’ll paint the ceilings and stage white and install chandeliers. There is a beautiful stained-glass round-window at the entrance we’ll be leaving in place.”
There is an enormous amount of early interest in using Cornerstone as a wedding venue, says Tobias.
“We put a rendering on Facebook and asked people what they thought,” says Tobias. “We had more than 20,000 page views, and more than 500 shares. So far, we have more than 20 deposits to book weddings there for 2019.”
Tobias and Cooper have made an application to rezone the property for commercial use. They appeared before the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC), which recommended city council approve the plan to rezone.
The plan will be presented to Council at a public meeting May 7. If approved, Tobias and Cooper would like to begin renovations at the end of the month.
A couple that lives next door expressed reservations about how loud it would be late at night, but Tobias assured them they would install the proper sound buffers and employ security guards to make sure the guests respect the residential character of the neighbourhood.
“The last thing we want to be is a neighbourhood nuisance,” Tobias told the PAC.
In any case, she says weddings with excessively loud music don’t suit her clientele.
“We don’t use subwoofers which produce a loud base noise,” she says. “At a wedding, you have grandmothers and aunts and uncles. The last thing you want is a DJ with subwoofers.”
Real estate agent Julia Hurst found the church for Tobias and Cooper. They see this as a first step toward owning and operating multiple venues.
“Her homework now is to find us another church. We’re going to try and take over [former] churches everywhere if it’s a minimal renovation,” says Tobias.
There are many churches for sale, including other prominent historic ones in Saint John’s city centre, but Tobias and Cooper say they’re open to repurposing other types of buildings as well.
Cooper was a contractor when he moved here from Nova Scotia to be with Tobias. He decided to join forces with her, joking that it was the only way to spend time together.
“When I met her, I realized how busy she was,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, I can’t date you unless I work with you.’ ”
Even though they’re in the wedding business, they’ve not married themselves – yet.
“Not yet. We have no time for a wedding,” he says. “We’re doing busy organizing one for everybody else.”