Church owners set deadline in negotiations

May 24, 2013
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The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and the New Atlantic Development have said that a decision will need to be made within 60 days from May 10 in the negotiations with the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) over the possibility of that organization buying the former Blessed Sacrament Church building.

“We told them every day resources are dwindling and it makes it harder to find a solution,” New Atlantic Development President Peter Roth said in an interview at the Gazette office May 10 with JPNDC acting President John Stainton, Executive Director Richard Thal and spokesperson Sally Swenson.

Claudio Martinez, executive director of HSTF, said on May 20 that “the Hyde Square Task Force has made an offer to purchase the church and we look forward to the JPNDC’s response in the next couple of days.”

He would not reveal the amount of the offer. HSTF has made previous offers.

JPNDC and New Atlantic Development bought the Blessed Sacrament Church campus at 365 Centre St. in 2005. The plan is to turn the church into luxury condos built by New Atlantic, but they are exploring whether alternatives are viable and have been in negotiations with HSTF for several months. Since the partners delayed the project last summer, they have incurred almost $200,000 in expenses, according to Roth.

Some residents have expressed their displeasure about the church being turned into market-rate condos, feeling that they were misled to believe that it would be community space or affordable housing when the JPNDC rallied against “gentrification” in a bid to buy the property in 2005. The JPNDC did not specify plans for the church building at that time, but after it won the property, its plans always included some market-rate condos in the church, though originally it included 20 percent affordable units

Dawn Belkin Martinez, a longtime City Life/Vida Urbana housing activist, in an email to the Gazette said market-rate condos was not the message JPNDC was communicating to community members or the spirit of the organizing campaign to buy the church campus in 2005.

“There was talk of ‘what would Jesus want for this church’ and it wasn’t market-rate condos,” she said.

HSTF held a rally May 3 at the church, advocating for its proposal to turn the building into a community and arts space, though there is no detailed plan.

Roth said the partners are committed to “trying to make it work for the Task Force.” He said it would be a “fantastic outcome” if the HSTF is able to buy the building and use it as community space.

But besides the cost of purchasing the building, the partners talked about the capital HSTF would need to renovate the aging infrastructure, as well as the operating costs of running a community space. Roth said it would cost “several millions dollars” to renovate the building.

Stainton said that HSTF has “not laid any groundwork” to those ends.

The JPNDC said at a meeting in February that its break-even price for the church was $1.2 million, but have since lowered the asking price by 32 percent to $816,000.

Roth said if the negotiations fail, construction on the condos could start within 60 or 90 days.

John Ruch contributed to this article.