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Theological Thursdays: St. Gerard

I say let St. Gerard go.

Not that my opinion matters.  I am not Catholic, I have never lived on the East side, and I’m not interested in out-bidding anybody.

I understand and respect the arguments of those who want the church to stay.  Many of them are friends of mine.  But the main argument for intervention is that this building is/could be the center of a community, and the future of this neighborhood depends on its presence.

But has it not already had a chance to do so?  The presence of this building was not sufficient to keep Italian Catholics from leaving the neighborhood.  Nor was it sufficient to attract a new population, or local investment.

Certainly, I would be happy if the Catholic Church took a stand against sprawl and/or white flight, but–here’s a big surprise –people don’t always obey, or even listen to, their priests, pastors, or church.  Trust me, I know from experience.

Whether or not we like it, people have voted with their feet, and with their dollars.  And absent a real investor and a real plan, the building should go where it will be used and appreciated.  Maybe someday there will be enough interest in the corner of Baily-East Delevan to demand condo’s, or a concert space, or one of the other re-uses that is proposed, but right now, the reality is that people are too afraid to make the investment that is needed.  Furthermore, I think the separation of church and state, as well as property rights in general, are sufficient to prevent the city from telling the church what to do.

That said, I do have a bit of hope.  I think that we can put pressure on the church–moral pressure, that is, to commit to using the proceeds from this sale for the benefit of the neighborhood.  It seems reasonable to ask that local labor (with a preference for hyper-local) be used for deconstruction, and that said laborers are paid a fair wage.  We can ask for more than a grass field to replace the building.  We can even ask the church to set aside some of the money for loans to neighborhood entrepreneurs.

While these old buildings are beautiful, they are not often functional.  Having to deal with one myself makes me wonder why these people in Atlanta are so interested in what I would consider a white elephant.

Maybe this is more pragmatic and less theological, but local investment of a few hundred thousand dollars will make more of a difference than a stabilized and boarded up building.  If that sets a precedent, fine.  After we prime the economic pump with a few of these sales, the newly employed people in these neighborhoods can use and pay for the buildings that remain.

One final option: according to wikipedia, St Gerard “was reputed to have bilocation.”  Maybe if the good saint can pull this off one more time, everybody will win.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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