St. Andrew’s developer chosen

August 24, 2007
By

John Ruch

Unnamed winner may work with school

FOREST HILLS—A developer has been chosen for the former St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex on Walk Hill Street, according to Michael Foley, the broker for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The winner is not being named pending a real estate closing. But it is not local non-profit developer Urban Edge, according to the group’s executive director, Mossik Hacobian. Urban Edge was the only publicly announced bidder, though it is understood there were several.

Urban Edge’s plans for the site included expansion space for the nearby Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School. But the winning developer may offer such space as well, Principal Virginia Chalmers told the Gazette.

“We’ve had initial conversations with…people who may be successful in the bid,” Chalmers said. “It’s more than a thought.”

Foley declined to comment on the contents of the winning bid. He said the identity of the developer will remain confidential until the real estate closing, which he estimated as happening within the next two months.

The 3.1-acre St. Andrew’s complex includes a church that closed in 2000; its own school, which closed in 2005; a rectory; a convent; another school building; and a parking lot. It is one of many former Catholic Church properties liquidated by the archdiocese, including Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Square, which is now under redevelopment.

St. Andrew’s went up for sale early this year. At that time Urban Edge had already become the only announced developer and held community meetings to gather input on its proposal.

Besides space for the popular Young Achievers, the Urban Edge plan included about 50 units of largely affordable housing. Some residents criticized the plan as too dense; raised concerns about supposed negative social impacts of affordable housing; and questioned Urban Edge’s track record as a landlord.

“I think that we had a pretty strong proposal, and as far as I know, we were among the finalists,” Hacobian said, adding that the archdiocese said the winning developer offered more money. Hacobian noted there might have been other factors as well.

“We had priced our proposal based upon what mixed-income affordable housing and the school could support,” Hacobian said. “We offered the most we could based on the uses we were proposing.”

Young Achievers has coveted the site even longer than Urban Edge and worked for years to build political support that might convince Boston Public Schools (BPS) to finance the move. At first, Young Achievers became a partner in Urban Edge’s proposal.

BPS threw a monkey wrench into the works with its announcement earlier this year that it did not support the Urban Edge/Young Achievers plan, saying it was too expensive. BPS did voice support for Young Achievers acquiring only the former kindergarten building in the complex.

The loss of BPS support led Young Achievers to quietly drop out as Urban Edge’s partner in the bid, Chalmers revealed to the Gazette.

“This was really a bid by Urban Edge,” she said. “We very much supported Urban Edge’s bid, and we feel they’re great partners with a community mission. But we couldn’t go in with the bid [without BPS support].” She called the decision “fiscal” rather than “attitudinal.”

Now Young Achievers is looking to partner with the winning bidder, whom Chalmers also declined to name.

“Preliminary indications are that [partnership] may be the case, that they may be open to some kind of arrangement,” Chalmers said.

If Young Achievers can’t get space in St. Andrew’s, she said, the only Plan B is “a reallocation of internal space,” like turning the cafeteria into classrooms.

But she also emphasized that, in any case, a St. Andrew’s move is a relatively short-term solution. The long-term solution under current BPS policy would be to move into an existing school building elsewhere.

St. Andrew’s was established in 1918. Though the church closed along with the entire parish in 2000, it remained in use for occasional Masses, weddings and funerals until sometime last year.

While such ceremonies presumably give St. Andrew’s a place of honor in the memory of many former parishioners, the church’s history has a dark side as well. From 1974 to 1980, it was home to John Geoghan, the infamous child-molesting priest who committed many of his crimes there, and was later murdered in prison.