St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral is expanding its footprint downtown. Plans call for the church’s offices to shift from Pearl Street to a vacant building on Main Street, freeing up the Parish House for conversion into 11 affordable apartments. Upon completion of the work, two downtown buildings in the Joseph Ellicott Historic District will be repurposed with new life.
“Both under-utilized buildings are in need of some work,” says George Hezel, a parishioner and director of the Affordable Housing Clinic at the University at Buffalo Law School advising on the project.
The multi-faceted plan will be completed in two stages. First up is a $1 million renovation of 306 Main Street. The vacant former Dime Savings Bank will be converted into offices for the Cathedral. Business offices now located in the Pearl Street Parish House will be relocated to the refurbished five-story building (corner building below).
“Its first two levels offer an open floor plan with a mezzanine,” says Hezel. “The upper floors will be offices. After renovations, the building will be suitable for community events and rehearsal space for the church’s four choirs. It’s a prominent building that will provide the church additional visibility.”
The circa-1910 former steel company headquarters is a beauty, right across the street from the Ellicott Square Building. St. Paul’s has owned the building since 2000.
Once the church’s offices are relocated, the Parish House at 128 Pearl Street will be converted into 11 affordable apartments (below). The building was reportedly the first fully fireproof building in Buffalo and was designed by E.B. Green and Associates. It was completed in 1896, the same year as the Guaranty Building two doors away.
The central staircase presents a unique challenge for the adaptation but it also provides a great deal of character to the space and wonderful oversized windows flood the space with natural light. The 10,600 sq.ft. building has many original details including woodwork and leaded windows that will be incorporated into the residential units. An elevator will be constructed in the building as part of the project.
Hezel says the $3.34 million residential conversion will utilize state and federal historic tax credits and will also be seeking state low-income housing credits. An $85,000 grant from the Margaret L. Wendt foundation is helping to underwrite the work. The balance of the project will be privately financed. A subsidiary of the church will be created to oversee the residential project and the Parish House will be added to the tax roll.
Three studio apartments with 459 sq.ft. of living space, four one-bedroom apartments with 620 to 648 sq.ft. of space and four two-bedroom units with 786 sq.ft. of living space are planned. The building will offer a basement laundry room, a sitting area on the first floor, individual storage spaces, and parking in a nearby church-owned lot on Pearl Street next to Webb Lofts. Recessed patios will be constructed on the building’s south elevation. Units on the building’s upper floors will have lake views down Erie Street while apartments along Pearl Street will overlook the church and Cathedral Park.
Flynn Battaglia Architects has been retained to design the renovations. Both buildings will incorporate green technology and be highly energy efficient.
Due to the restrictions with the low-income housing credits, occupants can earn up to 90 percent of the area’s median income, or roughly $42,000/year. Rents are projected to range from $425 for the studio apartments to slightly over $1,000 for a two-bedroom unit.
“The range of unit sizes and prices is unique to downtown,” says Hezel. He expects the apartments to be attractive to empty nesters, retirees and downtown workers.
St. Paul’s was founded in 1817. The original church was destroyed by fire in the 1880’s and the new church which stands today was dedicated in 1888.
Work on both buildings, which hinges on selling the affordable housing tax credits and City approvals, will take eight months to complete. Hezel anticipates work starting this fall.
Says Hezel, “The goal is to have these buildings in use for another 30, 40 or 50 years.”