Consultant hired for Blessed Sacrament church

February 1, 2013
By

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) has hired a consultant for the Blessed Sacrament Church building to vet alternative options for its future, it was announced during a Jan. 17 community meeting at the Julia Martin House.

The name of the consultant was not revealed during the meeting.

The current plan is to turn the building, a former Roman Catholic church built more than 80 years ago, into luxury condos. When the plan was first announced last summer, there was significant opposition.

Some critics of that plan have previously said, and reiterated during the community meeting, they would like to see the building turned into a performance/community center. One attendee, Jason Hutchinson, has a proposal to do just that, but does not have funding.

The meeting was the first of three, according to JPNDC, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. The second meeting, which will be Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Julia Martin House, will discuss options and resources needed. A third meeting, which will hopefully produce a final decision, is slated for the end of February, according to JPNDC.

JPNDC and New Atlantic Development, co-owners of the Blessed Sacrament complex, currently have a plan to turn the former Catholic church into 37 luxury condos, but have said they are open to other options if they are financially feasible.

The owners released financial reports last October that showed they have spent $2.1 million on the former church and the Norbert School, another building they own on the campus, and are incurring an additional $20,000 in costs each month, including real estate taxes, maintenance and condo fees. There are also controversial plans to turn the Norbert School building into 21 market-rate apartments.

Reuben Kantor, a JPNDC board member, said at the start of the Jan. 17 meeting that other options for the church building have been looked at without success. He said JPNDC, like the critics of the luxury condo plan, wants to maintain a vibrant, diversified and affordable neighborhood.

“Your fight is our fight,” said Kantor.

Vanessa Snow of the Hyde Square Task Force read from a prepared statement that was in opposition to the current plan. She said that the city has celebrated other rich cultural enclaves, such as Chinatown and the North End, and has done so with the Jackson/Hyde Square neighborhood being the Latin Quarter. But, Snow said, developing the building into luxury condos would not fit the neighborhood’s identity.

“It would be a tragedy to lose this breath-taking building for condos,” she said. “The structure was built by highly-skilled artisans for the purpose of building community, a place where people could connect and be inspired. Building condos would not only go against the original use of this historic building, but it would also destroy much of the interior craftsmanship.”

Hutchinson, who represents a small group called Neighbors for Blessed Sacrament, brought up his proposal turn the building into a gallery and events space.

Hutchinson, who spoke with the Gazette in a recent interview, said he said he is working with the community developer Andre White.  He said they do not have funding, but said the proposal was easily funded.

Hutchinson said he has talked to the JPNDC and he knows what he needs to do in order to purchase the building, but there will be no further action until funding is in place.