Letter: Church should be Latino cultural center

July 20, 2012
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According to the last issue of the JP Gazette, the fate of the Blessed Sacrament Church, a majestic neighborhood icon, could be decided upon by the JP Neighborhood Development Corporation within the next few weeks (“Church sale looms as developers plan,” July 6). One of the proposals put forth by JPNDC’s co-owner of the property, New Atlantic Development, is to develop 32-34 luxury condos.

The JPNDC argues that market-rate housing is part of the long-range vision for the church, dating back to 2006 when a Citizens Advisory Committee, appointed by the mayor, worked with the developers, the community and the Boston Redevelopment Authority to draw up a consensus plan.

However, the JPNDC has already deviated from the original plan. Previously, it was assumed that the Norbert School building, a 15,000-square-foot, two-and-a-half-story building on the campus, would remain either a school or office space. Instead the NDC is selling this property to developers who plan to develop 18 market-rate apartment lofts to house “knowledge workers.” The NDC made this decision without consulting with the original Blessed Sacrament Citizens Advisory Committee and without holding any public meetings.

Now, with luxury housing already a given on the campus in the Norbert building, the debate on the use of the church should also be reopened. This powerful structure, regarded by preservationists as one of the most notable examples of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture in the country, deserves a renewed and thoughtful community-wide discussion, rather than just a convenient cash sale to a luxury housing developer.

There are many ideas swirling about on the future use of the church, and I would add to the mix the creation of a Latin American Arts/Cultural Center. For the past 50 years, Hyde/Jackson Squares, known as Boston’s Latin Quarter, has been the home of waves of Latin American immigrants, including those from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central and South America, and the Dominican Republic. In fact, the Latino population is the fasting-growing ethnic group in Boston, as Latinos provided 80 percent of Boston’s new growth between 2000 and 2010.

Latin America has a wealth of art, music, traditions, literature, language, theater, food and spirituality to enrich our city, and more institutions are needed to house, showcase, preserve and celebrate these riches. What better place to develop such a center than in the heart of the Latin Quarter? Could we envision a Latin restaurant; a community space for family parties, weddings and events; a performing arts space; housing for visiting Latin American artists who contract with Boston Public Schools; etc., etc.?

Of course, visions are easily dreamt and the real work is in building consensus, crunching numbers, creating partnerships and finding investors. Doesn’t our towering, beautiful superstructure call out for this level of energy and investment?

Ken Tangvik

Jamaica Plain