Hyde Square Task Force taps developer for Blessed Sacrament
After standing empty for more than a decade, the Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain will finally open its doors once again — this time to residents rather than parishioners. On Sept. 18, the housing development firm Pennrose was selected by the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) to construct new apartments and a public performing arts space, after months of community meetings reviewing project proposals.
The iconic structure, which will be maintained for the most part on the outside, is currently owned by the youth development nonprofit. After unsuccessful attempts at renovating the space for their needs, HSTF was forced to look elsewhere for potential stewards. Following the decision to sell the property, community concern rose that the former house of worship would be sold to luxury condo developers, and the neighborhood would lose access to the building.
“When it was first announced that the church was going to be sold, there was confusion … and it wasn’t clear what kind of criteria or priorities were going to be established that went along with the sale,” said Harry Smith, a JP resident since the 1990s who has been involved in the advocacy group Friends of Blessed Sacrament.
“I think over the last several months, in conversations with the Task Force and them launching a community process, people felt listened to and felt like their concerns were met in terms of having an open process and really getting to hear directly from the finalists that they chose to present,” Smith said.
According to a HSTF press release, the rationale behind the selection of Pennrose is that the group’s proposal “aligns with their selection criteria, which includes neighborhood benefits in the form of performance/event and community outdoor space; capital support to help retire HSTF property debt and its long-term capital needs; and consideration in the naming of the new building.”
Betsaida Gutiérrez, a former parishioner and long-time community activist, was another of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament that made her voice heard during the selection process. Overall, she’s happy with the selection of Pennrose.
“Thank you very much to the hundreds of community members who participated in the community meetings and filled out surveys about the future of the church,” Gutiérrez said in a statement. “Thanks to you the Hyde Square Task Force made the right decision in selecting Pennrose.”
Out of the final proposals heard by the community, Pennrose was the only that included a performance space operated solely by the community. In addition to an indoor space with room for more than 200 guests, there will also be outdoor community space in front, and the church’s baptistery will become an open-air performance gazebo.
In a statement, HSTF executive director Celina Miranda said she is excited for the organization and the community to continue to be stakeholders in Blessed Sacrament’s future.
“We recognize that this is the beginning of a partnership with Pennrose,” Miranda said “The HSTF Board believes that Pennrose has the highest likelihood of a great outcome for the community and for our organization.”
Additionally, HSTF leadership cites Pennrose’s commitment to affordable housing as another plus, as rising housing prices continue to push out long-time residents. According to their proposals, Pennrose is committed to the following varied levels of affordability: Eight units designated for incomes less than 30% of area median income (AMI); eight units for incomes under 50% of AMI; 16 units for incomes less than 60% of AMI; and 20 units limited to 120% of AMI.
Dorothy V. Malcolm, a former parishioner who was baptized and married at Blessed Sacrament and who graduated from Blessed Sacrament High School, said she’s happy with the final decision HSTF has made.
“As a kid, my whole world was wrapped around our dearly-loved Blessed Sacrament Church,” she said. “It’s a fine blessing that it soon will be not only preserved and restored, but kept within the realm and needs of the community that truly needs it.”
Pennrose’s purchase price will cover HSTF’s current mortgage on the property, and according to the press release, will “help to recoup some of the costs incurred in carrying the church over the past seven years.”
The next steps for finalizing the deal will involve HSTF outlining sale conditions, including maintaining the promised level of affordable housing and respect for green space.
Pennrose New England Regional Vice President Charlie Adams said he looks forward to working with HSTF on the development.
“Our goal is to preserve and transform this beloved, historic asset into a high-quality, multi-purpose development for residents, neighbors, and the surrounding community to enjoy,” Adams said in a statement. “We’re honored to work closely with HSTF and the community on continued engagement as we execute a shared vision for the church.”
Over the last month, HSTF leaders and the Blessed Sacrament church committee held a mix of virtual and community information sessions, conducted a survey about the information presented by developers, and set up a dedicated email and phone line to hear questions and concerns. To reach the neighborhood’s large Latinx population, materials and meetings were accessible in English and Spanish.
All in all, around 200 community members got involved in the process in some way.
“On behalf of Hyde Square Task Force, we thank all the community voices for contributing to this important engagement process,” said Mark Saperstein, HSTF board president. “HSTF remains committed to ensuring that Pennrose holds to the planned use and community benefits it’s proposing. We understand that continued community engagement will be invaluable to the long-term success of the project.”
Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Salon and a leader of the Latin Quarter Business Association, said she also hopes the rest of the transformation of Blessed Sacrament is a collaborative process.
“I am happy that the Blessed Sacrament project is moving to its next phase and that a burden is being lifted from the Hyde Square Task Force,” Pimentel said. “We will keep working to make sure that Pennrose and the Task Force listen to the voices of residents and merchants as things go forward.”