The last decade has been rough for churches in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. The Metropolitan AME church at 20th & Fitzwater was demolished and replaced by six townhomes. The Varick AME church at 19th & Catharine was deemed dangerous and demolished, and ten homes eventually rose in its place. At 19th & Fitzwater, Mount Olive AME is gone and now five townhomes are there instead. Along with those demolitions, the neighborhood has seen a couple of residential conversions, including the Saint Matt's turned Sanctuary Lofts on Grays Ferry Avenue and the two-unit condo building at 23rd & Madison Square. And then there's the First African Baptist church, now historic, which will seemingly get redeveloped and not demolished.
That brings us to another one of the neighborhood's churches, the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church at 17th & Fitzwater. The congregation has a storied history that dates back nearly 200 years, but it appears the congregation will pursue its future at a new location. Just a couple of days ago, the church and two buildings next door were listed for sale. And they can be yours for the low low price of three million dollars.
Okay, the price is way too high. But if it wasn't, what are the options here?
The most straightforward development play for this location would be to demolish the church and its associated buildings and build four mansions in their place. Of course, that plan would only start to make sense at a purchase price that's less than half of what they're asking. New construction condos would work too, considering the property is zoned for multi-family use, though the asking price remains a major obstacle. For preservationists and many neighbors, adaptive reuse would likely be the preferred course, and it seems that developers could add at least one interior floor to create more units. But that type of project would probably force the price even lower to make the property perform. Also, density! Parking! Oh no.
It's possible that with the news that this building is now for sale, a third party will make an application to the Historical Commission to designate the building to ensure that whoever buys it won't be able to tear it down. This would certainly accomplish the goal of saving the building, but it would also chop hundreds of thousands of dollars off the sale price and complicate adaptive reuse efforts. This seems unfair to both the congregation and the whoever ends up redeveloping the property.
We'd like to see the City step up and enact policies that make adaptive reuse more attractive for developers so that neighborhoods can better maintain their architectural diversity. Does anyone have any ideas?