Hyde Square Task Force presents three potential developers to community for Blessed Sacrament Church project

The Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) held a series of community meetings this past weekend and Monday evening regarding the selection of three developers who have proposals for the Blessed Sacrament Church building.

Hyde Square Task Force has owned the church building since 2014, and aimed to create a community performance and art space. After failing to find a partner to rehabilitate the building because it could not do it alone, HSTF decided they needed to sell the building, but had a list of criteria that bidders needed to follow if they wanted to be considered.

The three developers presented their concepts at the public meetings, where the public was invited to weigh in on each of the presentations. The HSTF board of directors will vote on the final developer in October.  

“We’ve taken our time to get the best proposals possible and have prioritized bidders that understand the significance of the building to the community. Getting the proposals to where they are now, has taken time,” Celina Miranda, Executive Director of The HSTF, said in a statement. “And we’ve also developed a well-coordinated community engagement process to allow for as many voices in our community to be heard. It’s our hope that neighborhood residents, community leaders and stakeholders commit to working together so we can reach an outcome that best benefits our entire Hyde Square community.” 

361 CENTRE ST. FOR THE PEOPLE

At the September 20 public meeting, the first developer to present was 361 Centre St. For the People, comprised of P. Northeast Contractors, Beau Properties, PlaceTailor, Elton+ Hampton Architecture and  Development Consulting, along with other partners. 

The proposal includes between 40 and 50 units of varying sizes from “micro” up to two bedrooms. There will be 42 parking spaces, a gym, bike storage, and laundry. The team said that 13 of the proposed units would be affordable, and they are “in negotiations with MassHousing for Workforce housing,” according to a slide presented. 

Additionally, the team proposed a $4 million, 5,000 square foot performance space that would allow for around 210 people seated and 400 “cocktail-style.”

The space would feature collapsible staging, lighting, AV controls, and proper acoustics, along with storage in the basement and a Green Room for changing. There would also be an outdoor stage area that could seat about 152 people or accommodate about 250 standing. 

The team is offering the HSTF 10 years of free access to the space, including 20 weekend days a year (Friday-Sunday) ad 26 weekdays per year, along with priority scheduling and some bonus days for the first two years. If the organization wants more than 46 days, it will be offered a 50 percent discount “based on availability,” a slide read.

The team also proposed $10,000 a year allocated towards youth programming for five years after receiving permits. 

Residents asked several questions at the September 18 virtual meeting relating to rent breakdowns, building preservation, and use of the performance space. 

PENNROSE/DIMELLA SHAFFER

The second developer was Pennrose in collaboration with DiMella Shaffer architects, which presented a proposal for affordable units along with a performance space.

“We’ve been really energized by this community’s goals,” said Rebecca Schofield of Pennrose, adding that Pennrose has more than 35 years “of management experience in affordable and mixed-income housing.” 

Additionally, she said that Penrose offers supportive services at its affordable sites.

Ryan Kiracofe of Pennrose said that the developer also has “expertise in historic preservation,” and the mission of the team is to partner with the community while “honoring the Blessed Sacrament’s history” and provide more housing for the area.

Philippe Saad of DiMella Shaffer talked about how the proposal would fit within the context of the surrounding area, saying that churches are “more than a place where people pray,” but also serve as a community gathering place. He said the proposal is “respectful of the original symmetry of the church.

There are 52 units proposed, and the performance space would be located “more towards the body of the church, closer to the street,” he said. The space could be used for various things like a blackbox theater, weddings, and other events. He said the space “will have the right acoustics for the different uses as well as the flexibility to serve multiple people and groups.

Kiracofe said that 60 percent of the units will be at 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI), while 40 percent would be classified as “workforce housing” that is income restricted for households earning 120 percent or less of the AMI.

Additionally, he said the “octagonal building on the lefthand side of the church” will be reprogrammed to allow for outdoor performances, and will include a stage area.

The building will include a management area for Pennrose on the first floor, along with some units and double elevators. The church’s dome will remain and “allow for a multi-story atrium.”

The front of the church will remain as-is. 

Some comments on the proposal were related to the design, including the wings on the side of the church, which resident Mark Hanser said were “hideous.” The team said that the “community engagement process is really important to us,” and “everything you see here is up for discussion.”

NUVU

The third presentation was by NuVu, a high school based in Cambridge that ditches traditional methods of learning for ones that are more collaborative. 

Saeed Arida of NuVU said that right now, the high school has 50 students enrolled, but if selected to renovate the Blessed Sacrament Church, the school could accommodate 150 students.

The school was founded in 2010, and student Luca Rudenstine commented on her experiences at NuVu.

She said that she “learned a lot about collaboration,” and “didn’t feel like I was in a classroom.” She spoke about one of the projects she completed at the school, where she interviewed people in Israel and Palestine about “what sounds they associate with joy,” and interview excerpts can be heard as part of the project.

Arida said that NuVu’s goal is to “preserve as much of the church building as possible.” The upper levels in the central space will be used for studio spaces for the students,, and the basement would include a tool shop. and space for other facilities. 

Resident Kevin Whalen said “this sounds like an amazing school,” but wondered what tuition was an how accessible it would be to students I the Hyde Square community. 

Karen Sutton said that NuVu operates on a sliding scale for its tuition, and 55 percent of current students receive financial aid. “We work to be as accessible to all students as possible,” she said. “Our families pay anything from nothing up to $40,000 for a full academic year.”

There was another concern about the community use of the performance space and whether or not there would be staff at the school to clean the space prior to community use. 

Michael Lozano said that the team is at the “very beginning of the process,” adding that the school day ends at 3:30 and there will be staff to ensure the space is cleaned for use outside of the school hours.

Another question was asked about “what safeguards will be in place” to ensure that the space will be used for what the proposal states.

HSTF Executive Director Celina Miranda said that the HSTF “will negotiate a purchase and sale agreement that lays out conditions for closing,” and a community process for zoning approvals will also be required.

“This is the beginning of a community engagement process that will continue,” she said. 

There are two more upcoming in-person meetings scheduled for September 30, one in English from 5:30 to 7:30 and one in Spanish from 6:30 to 8:30. Both meetings will show pre-recorded presentations from the developers followed by time for discussion.

There is also a feedback survey available in English and Spanish, and the HSTF is encouraging residents to take it. The survey can be taken at the following links:

Survey – English: https://forms.gle/wXpZe1gxonVmFQ2P9 

Encuesta – español: https://forms.gle/qRvGyG85zDqPeMSC8 

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