On Tuesday, the Diocese of Buffalo will hold a symposium to consider reuse of the churches that have been and are being closed through the “Journey of Faith and Grace” process. The symposium will be held from 8:30AM to 12:30PM, according to diocesan spokesman Kevin Keenan.
As quoted in Sunday’s Buffalo News, Keenan also said that “Bishop Edward U. Kmiec is particularly interested in exploring how nonprofit agencies could redevelop [these] facilities to meet human services needs in the community,” including impoverished areas of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Niagara Falls.
As reported in the Buffalo News, representatives from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal will be on hand to explain possible federal and state funding for adaptive reuse projects. There will also be discussion of state and federal historic preservation tax credits.
It is not certain whether this consideration of historic preservation tax credits—which requires historic designation—represents a shift in policy for the diocese, which has traditionally, and even quite recently, fought vigorously against historic designations of diocesan churches.
As reported in the Buffalo News, the diocese has sold about a quarter of the 77 worship sites that have been closed, or are slated to close, since the “Journey of Faith and Grace” process began in 2005. Sales of churches so far have generated more than $2 million for remaining Catholic parishes, with sale prices ranging from a low of $12,000 to $300,000 (for the former Immaculate Conception Church on Edward Street in Allentown). But as the News reported yesterday, Immaculate Conception (entry image) remains vacant and is now back on the market.
St. Barbara’s Church in Lackawanna, where the symposium will be held (at the parish center behind the church), was closed by the diocese in January of this year. The church’s yellow brick tower has been a landmark on Ridge Road in Lackawanna since 1931. According to the Polish Genealogical Society’s listing of Polish parishes in western New York, after the church’s consecration, “a viable Polish shopping and professional strip grew up” around it. It is currently listed for sale through Pyramid Brokerage for $700,000, as “office space.” Last year, when it became official that the diocese would be closing St. Barbara’s, Lackawanna Mayor Norman Polanski floated the idea of reusing the church as a new city hall.
“The building is historic,” Polanski told WGRZ last year. “It’s got striking features. I think it would be a proud addition to the City of Lackawanna as a city hall.”
Polanski also told WGRZ that the current city hall, just a few blocks from St. Barbara’s, is outdated and inefficient. A call to the mayor’s office today, however, revealed that proposal may no longer be under consideration.
This symposium is, in part, an outgrowth of the work of the Parish Property Redevelopment Committee, which has been working since this spring to advise Bishop Kmiec on future uses for parish properties that will no longer be used as a result of mergers. The committee includes architects, engineers, housing advocates, urban planners and developers, as reported by Buffalo Rising and the Buffalo News in May.
Time: 8:30AM to 12:30PM, Tuesday, November 18
Saint Barbara’s Church Parish Center
Near Caldwell Place and Center Street (behind St. Barbara’s Church, at 539 Ridge Road, Lackawanna, NY 14218
Entry image: Immaculate Conception Church (closed, for sale) on Edward Street, by Karl Josker
Second image: St. Barbara’s Church and Parish Center, Lackawanna