Want to buy a church?

By Charlene Prost, Of the Post-Dispatch, Thursday, Jun. 09 2005. 

Catholic churches, with their ornate sanctuaries and choir lofts, soaring ceilings and stained-glass windows, might not seem like a place to work or call home. 

But developer Pete Rothschild is thinking housing these days as he checks out some of the 20 churches and other buildings the Archdiocese of St. Louis has on the sale block. 

"I would make the choir loft part of a living area," said Rothschild, who already is recycling some of the old St. Louis Public Schools buildings for housing. 

"The real challenge with these churches, though, are the sanctuaries," he said. "There's a lot of cubic feet there, and with the high ceilings, it might be a little drafty for a single resident. ... But I'm definitely interested." 

What's attracting Rothschild, other developers, public and private school officials - even other churches - is the largest sale of parish buildings in archdiocese history. It's the result of consolidating Catholics in south St. Louis and north St. Louis County into fewer parishes. 

Altogether, the archdiocese is selling more than 80 buildings. Thirteen churches with related schools and other parish buildings, most built in the 1950s and 1960s, include about 90 acres in North County; the rest, generally older properties, are in south St. Louis. The oldest church, St. Boniface, dates to 1860. 

Most buildings have been in use and are in good condition, said real estate agents selling them for the archdiocese. But there are exceptions. 

"Some schools closed long ago do have maintenance problems," said Hal Ball at Hilliker Corp., which is selling properties in St. Louis. "But generally, the buildings have been pretty well kept up." 

If the archdiocese gets the asking prices, the properties would bring in more than $30 million. 

But money is not the primary object of this sale, said Thomas Richter, director of building and real estate at the archdiocese. 

"We want to get the listed price, but we would consider tinkering with that if someone comes in with a proposal we really like," he said. "These parishes have been important anchors in their neighborhoods, and we want to leave behind a positive legacy. 

"Our preference is to sell to another faith, for religious use, or to a school," he said, adding, "And generally, we don't want the buildings used for anything that would be sordid, distasteful or objectionable to the church." 

With that in mind, the archdiocese is compiling a list of reuse proposals it would reject. 

"A clinic for abortions would be out, for example," Richter said. "Also, no bars, hair salons, no commercial, such as an auto body shop. We are concerned about restaurants that serve alcohol. I don't think there'd be an objection to 
a very nice restaurant. But we don't want a bar that sells hamburgers." 

Richter said the archdiocese will remove statutes, relics, and "anything that makes the church Catholic" before the structures are sold. 

For the same reason, he said, the archdiocese will take out some stained- glass windows. 

"If we sell to another religious group that intends to use it as a house of worship, we will allow the windows to remain," he said. "But if we sell to someone for commercial use, we will remove windows that have a religious connotation." 

That aspect of the sale is raising concerns among some preservationists. 

"The stained-glass windows are part of the buildings, and to remove them will certainly lower their value and affect their architectural significance," said Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis Inc. 

"Removing them could also impair our ability to get churches listed on the National Register of Historic Places," she noted, a requirement for developers looking to use historic tax credits to offset renovation costs. 

Richter said the archdiocese is trying to protect its religious heritage and, for that reason, also will prohibit use of a church's name after it is sold. 

"We don't want someone to disrespectfully reuse the name," he said. "We don't want to see, for example, 'Condos at St. Aloysius.'" 

Mix of interests.

At least initially, prospective buyers must submit one proposal for all buildings at each property, rather than proposals for individual buildings. The exception is Holy Innocents in the city. The entire property is listed at $1.6 
million. But buildings also are listed separately at prices ranging from $550,000 for the 48-year-old church to $300,000 for the rectory. 

Ball said most of the parish complexes were constructed over the years with related buildings, some of which are attached, and the archdiocese prefers to sell them as groups. 

But at Holy Innocents, the layout is different. "The buildings separate out easily, so we decided to sell them that way," Ball said. 

If the other properties don't sell as complexes, he said, "Later, we'll look at breaking them up." 

Hilliker and Linda M. Wash Real Estate LLC already are giving tours to would-be buyers and set bid deadlines of July 14 and Aug. 11 for properties in the city. 

So far, the tours are attracting a mix of potential buyers. 

"We just had 20 plus people through Holy Innocents ... several church groups, a youth hostel group looking at the convent, some redevelopers looking to maybe take the rectory and turn it into a three- or four-family" residential 
building, Ball said. "We're also expecting maybe theater or performance type groups and perhaps a restaurant." 

In North County, Trammell Crow Co. is selling the properties without bid deadlines and already has some proposals. 

Agent Pamela Even said properties there mainly are attracting public school districts, private schools, other religious groups and some developers. While buildings in that area generally are more modern, there are exceptions. 

At St. Aloysius, there's a convent built in 1908 and a school in 1928. There's also the "quilt" building at Corpus Christi. "At one time it housed the boiler system," Even said. " Now it's a gathering place for quilters." 

Toft, at Landmarks, wants the archdiocese to do what St. Louis Public Schools officials did last year when the district put nearly 40 surplus buildings on the block. To make sure historic ones were properly preserved, the district required buyers to follow rehab guidelines and construction timetables. 

Only St. Boniface is listed on the historic register now, but Toft said most church properties in St. Louis are eligible. County preservation historian Esley Hamilton said some church buildings there, although not listed, are "good 
examples of modern architecture" that should be preserved. 

Richter said the archdiocese wants to see its buildings "reused as much as possible," but also wants to be flexible in working with buyers. He expects many of them, particularly in more populated North County, to sell and reopen 

"School districts there are looking for space and are potential buyers, as are preschools, day schools and other church denominations," he said. "I think we will have sold half of them by the time the churches are closed." 

Archdiocese complexes for sale: 

Property #Address #Price 

South St. Louis 
1. Holy Family, 1.5 acres 4125 Humphrey Street $1.69 million 
2. Holy Innocents, 1.9 acres 4223 Odell Street $1.65 million 
3. Immaculate Conception, 1.2 acres 3120 Lafayette Avenue $1.38 million 
4. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, 2.1 acres 5608 North Magnolia Avenue $1.48 million 
5. St. Boniface, 2.1 acres 7622 Michigan Avenue $1.78 million 
6. St. Hedwig, 1.2 acres 3202 Pulaski Street $900,000 
7. St. Thomas of Aquin, 3/4 acre 3949 Iowa Street $475,000 

Agents: Hilliker Corp. and Linda M. Wash Real Estate LLC. Tour, bid deadlines 
and other information available online at hillikercorp.com and LMWash.com. 

North County
1. Corpus Christi, 5.8 acres 8449 Jennings Station Road $2.5 million 
2. North American Martyrs, 4.7 acres 1350 South Lafayette Avenue $2.3 million 
3. Our Lady of Fatima, 7.2 acres 4450 Washington Street $1.84 million 
4. Our Lady of Good Counsel, 9.7 acres 1134-60 St. Cyr Road $2.37 million 
5. Our Lady of Mercy, 6.5 acres 5323 Ville Maria Lane $1.14 million 
6. Transfiguration, 7.6 acres 12555 Partridge Run Drive $2.17 million 
7. St. Aloysius, 8.1 acres 12110 Larimore Road $907,500 
8. St. Bartholomew, 9.8 acres 8368 Latty Avenue $935,000 
9. St. Catherine of Alexandria, 2.7 acres 351 Chambers Road $1.27 million 
10. St. Christopher, 6.6 acres 11755 Mehl Avenue $1.56 million 
11. St. Pius X, 7.5 acres 335 Shepley Drive $1.1 million 
12. St. Sebastian, 6.1 acres 9950 Glen Owen Drive $1.87 million 
13. St. William, 7.3 acres 9330 Stansberry Avenue $1.45 million 

Agent: Trammell Crow Co.; more information is online at trammellcrow.com.

Reporter: Charlene Prost 
E-mail: cprost@post-dispatch.com 
Phone: 314-340-8140

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Commentary by Richard Bach.

I have been asked by a few individuals for what I was targeting the article concerning the sale of closed churches in the St. Louis Archdiocese. I have several, but here are just a few: 

- The Archdiocese does NOT own these properties outright, they are held 'IN TRUST' by the diocese/Archbishop for the parishioners. 
- Another example against what the diocese told St. Stan's that they would own the property still when it would be deeded over to the Archbishop. 
- If it is not about the money, what else is being gained by the sales of these properties? 
- Why is the media not pushing the idea of the people own the property since the deeds say 'IN TRUST'? Someone needs to be educating the parishioners in the Archdiocese of St. Louis if they do not understand that this exists. 
- Since the properties are held 'IN TRUST', doesn't that mean that the diocese has failed in their management of these for the parishioners and they should be replaced as managers of the trusts? ... that is what normally occurs in court situations with regard to trust management failures. 

Richard Bach
Parishioner of St. Stanislaus Kostka.