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Hyde Square Task Force vets developers for Blessed Sacrament

Anna Lamb
Hyde Square Task Force vets developers for Blessed Sacrament
The Blessed Sacrament church in Jamaica Plain. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

After years of watching the Blessed Sacrament Church in the Hyde Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain crumble, residents have now been presented with several development proposals to bring new life into the structure.

Officially closed as a house of worship in 2004, the church and its accompanying school buildings on the campus were sold to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation which converted multiple structures into affordable housing units. However, the church has never been repurposed and has stood empty for over a decade.

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts to utilize the historic edifice –– in 2014 the building was sold to the Hyde Square Task Force, a youth development group, for $800,000. The nonprofit had hopes of creating a cultural center out of the building, as their youth programming is run in a converted school building just behind the main church. Dance and musical performances have been held on the church’s front steps, though now the building is fenced off due to concrete adornments falling from the front and sides.

In 2019, the group was unsuccessful in seeking out a fruitful partnership with any developers to make the vision of a community-run space a reality.   

“We’re not a real estate development organization,” said Celina Miranda, executive director of the HSTF. “We tried, and unfortunately, the costs were prohibitive.”

Now, HSTF is in the process of looking for a developer to buy the property –– with the caveat that the community will still benefit from whatever goes inside. In the wake of neighborhood concern over possible gentrification as a result of the building’s sale, HSFT and a committee from the church have established criteria for evaluating interested parties and proposals that include weighing financial benefit to HSTF and amenities for the neighborhood. They’ve also brought on brokerage firms Colliers and Cushman & Wakefield to help in the sale of the building. 

The criteria for consideration is as follows: 1) Benefit to Community, in the form of performance/event space, ideally for 250 people; 2) Financial benefit to HSTF, specifically capital to retire debt on the property as well as for other long-term capital needs of the organization; 3) Accessible outdoor community space; 4) Naming consideration, and 5) Overall feasibility.

On Saturday, September 18 three developers selected as finalists for the bids based on these considerations, outlined their plans for the building in a Zoom meeting open to the public. Those included two housing plans from developers Pennrose and Alvarado & Beaujean, and one plan for a private school.

“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,” Miranda said. “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.”

Pennrose, a national developer with multiple offices spread throughout the Northeast and which boasts “2,300 units developed in historic rehabs,” is looking to develop the upper level of the church into a “mix” of one and two bedrooms and studio rentals that are income restricted while the bottom level would be a 200-person performance space for the community. Company representatives stated in their presentation that 60% of the units would be intended for renters at 60% Area Median Income (AMI) while the remaining 40% are intended as “workforce” units aimed at those under 120% AMI.

Alvarado & Beaujean, the other housing developer vying for the space, is a combination of contractor Pablo Alvarado and property manager Nicolas Beaujean of Beau Properties. Their proposal consists of 33 market rate rental units starting at $1,550 a month, and 13 affordable units likely made available to renters at 70% AMI and below. A performance space is included that will be owned and operated by the property management company and will be made available to HSTF for the first 10 years after completion, unlike in the Pennrose plan which gives HSTF an ownership stake in the building. The exact logistics of that deal are not yet finalized.

Finally, NuVu “Innovation School,” a private high school currently based in Cambridge, is looking to make the church into a home-base, hoping to transform the inside of the structure into a studio space as is required by their alternative curriculum. Like the others, NuVu’s proposal also includes a performing arts space that could be made available to the public. NuVu’s tuition is $40,000 a year, with scholarships available by application.

The bid offers for the building range from $1.5 to $2.1 million.

Following the virtual meeting, an in-person public open house was held later the same afternoon where community members were able to view presentation materials and ask one-on-one questions to each developer. Several longtime residents who have been vocal about the need for community involvement in the development process were in attendance at both the virtual and in-person events.

Harry Smith, a JP resident since the ’90s and who has been involved in the advocacy group “Friends of Blessed Sacrament” said when HSFT first announced the sale of the church, they had not had any restrictions or requirements regarding who would take the historic structure over.

“That touched off a lot of conversations,” he said, adding that in the year since, things have turned in a positive direction.

“We’ve been really pleased now with the way that they moved forward in this process and that the community has been able to meet potential developers in different kinds of formats, on Zoom or in person,” Smith said.

Bestsaida Gutierrez has lived in the neighborhood since 1972, and said she hopes some of the iconic structure can be maintained, and that the building continues as a meaningful spot. She pressed developers during the Zoom meeting on specifics of each plan.

“I want to preserve the architecture of the building [and make sure] that whatever gets developed there serves the community,” she said.

Once all community feedback is reviewed and considered, the HSTF said its board of directors will be voting on the best possible option in October 2021.

The next meeting is scheduled for September 30, in person at the HSTF building from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. concurrently in English and Spanish.

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