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Charles Street AME church attempts sale of Renaissance building

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Charles Street AME church attempts sale of Renaissance building
The Charles St. AME church is seeking to sell the former Skycap Lounge at auction for $2 million. The church, which is in bankruptcy, owes creditors in excess of $5 million.

In the midst of bitterly contested foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings, the Charles Street AME church is seeking to sell the Renaissance Center building that it borrowed $3.6 million to renovate.

The proposed sale, to bidder Action for Boston Community Development, would have to go through a court-approved auction, but OneUnited Bank officials will likely block the auction in an attempt to recoup all of the church’s debt.

Charles Street owes OneUnited more than $5 million in principal, interest and penalties for loans it took out to consolidate debt and renovate the Renaissance Center, formerly the Skycap Lounge, into a conference center and make repairs to the historic church building at the corner of Warren Street and Elm Hill Avenue.

While Charles Street has filed for bankruptcy, attorneys for OneUnited have insisted that the loans should be repaid by the African Methodist Episcopal First District, which guaranteed the loan.

“OneUnited Bank believes the church’s parent organization and guarantor of the loan, the First Episcopal District AME Church, which represented to the bank that it had over $500 million in assets and over $20 million in cash on hand, should fulfill its obligation to pay the church debt,” a OneUnited spokesman said in a statement emailed to the Banner.

Action for Boston Community Development agreed to pay Charles Street $2 million for the Renaissance Center, a row of storefronts facing Warren Street and an adjoining parking lot.

ABCD Executive Director John Drew said the agency could use the building for classroom space and space for programs run out of its nearby Elm Hill Family Center.

“This whole campus would make sense for us,” he said.

Attorneys for Charles Street need the approval of a bankruptcy judge for the sale to go through. As a creditor, OneUnited could block the auction by out-bidding the ABCD or any other interested parties in what is called a “credit bid.” The bank would retain ownership and the church’s debt obligation would remain intact under that scenario.

Ropes & Gray attorney Ross Martin, who is representing the church, says he is requesting that the judge block OneUnited from bidding in the auction, arguing that Charles Street’s bankruptcy allows them to sell property to meet their debt obligations.

“Any property can be sold in a way that helps the entity emerge from Chapter 11 [bankruptcy]” he said.

But OneUnited argues that the total plan must meet Charles Street’s financial obligation to the bank.

“The bank believes that the proposed sale of certain assets does not maximize value to creditors,” reads OneUnited’s statement. “The bank would prefer not to litigate matters with the church, but given the church’s inability to meet its financial obligations and its parent’s refusal to honor its commitment, the bank is left with little choice.”

The judge has not yet ruled on Charles Street’s request.

So far Charles Street has submitted seven amendments to its plan before the court, but none have approved by the judge. OneUnited Bank is not permitted to offer a proposal for resolving the bankruptcy until the Charles Street submission has been decided upon by the court.

Adding intrigue to the conflict, the law firm representing Charles Street submitted two conflict of interest forms to the bankruptcy court detailing potential conflicts of interest between the firm and two nonprofits which bid on the Renaissance Center.

Ropes & Gray partner Mark Nuccio is a past chairman of ABCD’s board of directors and currently serves as corporate clerk for the nonprofit board. The disclosure states that Nuccio will not represent the debtor in the bankruptcy case.

Ropes & Gray partner Diane Patrick, wife of Gov. Deval Patrick, is an honorary board member of Horizons for the Homeless, which also submitted a bid to purchase the Renaissance Center.

And ABCD is a client of Ropes & Gray on matters unrelated to their representation of the Charles Street, according to the disclosure.

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