Churches in the United States: Redevelopment Research (2)

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Churches in the United States: Redevelopment Research (2)

We have reviewed the previous research as requested and we can report that there is no missing text after "Finally," at the end of the second paragraph. This was an error and should not have been in the final report sent. However, we did note that there were indeed three examples presented that illustrated churches that had been restored or protected, which was not desired or asked for. Specifically, those are the examples surrounding the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, California, the First United Methodist Church, Seattle, Washington, as well as the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Augusta, Georgia. We have removed those from this revision. As clearly outlined in the initial hour of research, it can be seen that the examples should be where the church site was sold, or a part of the site was sold and there was new development as a result. To that end we are keeping one of the examples verbatim (Saint Aidan's Catholic Church, Brookline, Massachusetts), but we have added sources to that section as we noted that many things were not cited that would likely be of interest. One such example was providing a link to one of the main players, Lisa Alberghini.

For this revision, we are adding three extra examples (so this report has four in total) that will provide more color and value to the final brief. Specifically these extra examples surround churches (or property the church owns) that have been redeveloped in the United States. For each new example, we have provided information surrounding the redevelopment that included (where available) the firm(s) and individual(s) that were involved in consulting or brokering each redevelopment. The locations are urban and where land is valuable. We did note that the examples may include not only churches, but could be nonprofits that have sold property to achieve their mission, however, we could find none that fit the exact parameters of this research.

One item we want to note is that almost all the examples we looked at were disputed in some way by local residents, and the developers had, in some cases, a lengthy battle to get their plans approved. For example, the trials and tribulations of the Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia can be read about here.

Saint Aidan's Catholic Church, Brookline, Massachusetts

  • As the church where former President John F Kennedy Junior was baptized, Saint Aidan's Catholic Church in Brookline, Massachusetts held a unique place in American history. However, faced with rising costs and diminishing parishioners, the Archdiocese of Boston made the decision to close the church and amalgamate the parish with St. Mary’s of the Assumption. The move was not without controversy. A battle ensued in the years following its closure between developers, neighbors and town officials over what would become of the former parish.
  • When the church closed at the dawn of the new Millennium (see page 83), many of the faithful lost their spiritual home, but in a twist of fate some found their way back, and are now residing in the housing units created by the development. The church's former housekeeper said, "While no one was happy at the loss of a church, they took solace in what project developers did with St. Aidan’s. It was nice to have it adapted for use for a variety of affordable housing."
  • While affordable housing units were always planned for the site, battle lines were drawn over the proposed demolition of the church, and a neighborhood committee formed to oppose the demolition. To this day, feelings of resentment bubble beneath the surface regarding the eventual demolition of the church. Ultimately the non-profit affordable housing developer affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs managed to placate the opposing factions and the development went ahead.
  • Lisa Alberghini, the executive director of the St. Aidan’s developer, has said subsequently that the developers engaged the community positively, and it was through the ongoing involvement of the parish and community members was key in the development that ultimately prevailed.
  • Plans for a 144 unit complex were abandoned, and the project eventually became 57 affordable housing units, with an additional nine luxury units on the site of the actual church. The 57 units were built from other buildings on the site. Twenty of those units became affordable rentals, while the remainder were sold to first time house buyers. It is a testament to the needs of the community and the fulfillment of part of the church's commitment to affordable housing, that at the time of the dedication in 2010, 54 units were already occupied.
  • What ultimately placated the community was opening the new housing units to members of the former parish. The former parish housekeeper is among those who have taken up the opportunity. However, as always there are two sides to every story, and the development of the site of the church into nine luxury units is still one that riles some members of the local community.
  • The development was a collaboration of both public and private entities, with the town of Brookline contributing over $2 million on the basis a number of the units would provide affordable housing. The key adviser to the Boston Archdioceses was the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, an organization that is affiliated with the church and provides affordable housing options in the local area.
  • We have provided before and after images of the site below.

St. Vincent De Paul Church, Williamsburg, New York

  • One of Williamsburg's oldest landmarks, the Saint Vincent De Paul Church at 167 North Sixth Street in Williamsburg‘s hyper trendy North Side was converted into 40 rental apartments known as the Spire Lofts.
  • The three-story brick church was designed by religious architect Patrick Keely in 1869, but it fell into disrepair. There were many issues, but the most obvious signs of neglect was a tree growing out of its bell tower, the roof being riddled with holes from missing bricks and shingles, and the chapel’s cross being removed because it nearly fell off.
  • In order for repairs to be kicked off at least four million dollars would be needed, as estimated by church leaders. Because of decreasing numbers of congregants and nothing in the church coffers to cover the extensive repairs, the Diocese signed off on the sale as part of a large number of church mergers throughout Brooklyn in 2011.
  • Surprisingly, the church was never considered a city landmark. As an added challenge to any buyer, the churches' zoning only allowed "residential development up to 50 feet tall and there could be no sordid use of the property such as a bar or liquor-serving restaurant, as the church had its own clause prohibiting that kind of usage."
  • Eventually dubbed "The Spire Lofts", it is located two minutes away from the L train at Bedford Avenue, "only one stop outside Manhattan as well as countless bars, cafes and boutiques in one of NYC’s most desirable areas." An apartment listing noted that the building has “expertly salvaged materials, including original exposed brick, reclaimed Heart Pine pillars and beams, arched stained glass windows, custom steel work, and exceptional quirks around every corner.”
  • Converted churches are always interesting to a potential buyer, but like many historic building conversions, they can be a disappointment once you take a look, with small rooms and not enough closet space. "The apartments here don’t try to be especially historic, but the interiors differ somewhat from the usual boilerplate rental “lofts” that tend to spring up like weeds in North Brooklyn."
  • The developer was Heritage Equity Partners. It should be noted that this is a "woman-owned real estate and development firm specializing in mixed-use development in the New York metro region." Toby Moskovits, founder and chief executive officer of Heritage Equity Partners, managed the conversion with Zambrano Architects attached to the project. Construction commenced in 2012, and was completed by winter/spring 2014. Both the marketing company and the leasing company is Apts & Lofts. Heritage reported that "converting was far riskier, and more expensive, than razing and building. Though Ms. Moskovits declined to discuss the company’s development costs, it paid about $14 million for the three church owned buildings, according to city finance records."
  • Images of the various stages of construction can be viewed in this source, where the commentary (fair warning) is not flattering towards the development.
  • We have provided before and after images of the site below.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Orphanage, New York City, New York

Arlington Presbyterian Church, Arlington, Virginia

Did this report spark your curiosity?