An historic West Village church has a new owner. The Evergreen Foundation, a subsidiary of the Evergreen Association, has purchased the Prospect Avenue Baptist Church at the northeast corner of Georgia Street and Prospect Avenue. The sanctuary at 262 Georgia Street and adjoining properties at 71 and 73 Prospect Avenue were purchased for $115,000 from the Prospect Avenue Baptist Society in late December.
The not-for-profit Evergreen Association oversees four affiliated agencies including the Foundation, Evergreen Health Services (formerly AIDS Community Services), PRIDE Center of WNY and Alianza Latina. A multi-million dollar renovation of the church property will provide meeting and community space for the growing non-profit along with 16 residential apartments.
The circa-1881 sanctuary includes seating for 900 on two levels, detailed wood work and original mahogany pews. It was designed by architect F.W. Caulkins. There are also two large community halls at the back of the property in a building that dates to mid-1860s but has been gutted of original detailing over the years.
The purchase of the 33,000 sq.ft. church complex expands Evergreen’s current West Village ‘campus.’
Since 2006, the agency has been located in the Roanoke Building at 206 S. Elmwood Avenue. Evergreen later purchased and expanded into the 1850’s Victorian home at 200 S. Elmwood and the Watkins Apartment building on W. Chippewa Street. Evergreen has 140 employees working in its buildings and a clientele that averages 7,000 individuals and families annually, 1,200 of those are HIV-positive.
Evergreen is still finalizing its plans for the property and will be teaming up with a developer with adaptive reuse experience to assist with the reuse project.
“There are a lot more unknowns than knowns at this point, said Christopher Voltz, Director of Marketing and Special Projects for Evergreen. “We have a lot of heavy lifting to do including obtaining funding to carry out the project.”
Project costs are unknown but Voltz expects the project to cost several million dollars. The timeline for completing the project is dependent on obtaining public and private funding.
Of pressing concern is a structural issue with a roof truss on the Plymouth Avenue side of the complex that has left one of the walls unstable.
Voltz says the agency’s strong track record with historic preservation will be applied to their most recent purchase. Evergreen officials have met with neighbors to discuss their plans ideas for the site and are supportive.
“We are dedicated to community beautification and historic preservation,” says Voltz. He points to Evergreen’s efforts to restore the Victorian home at 200 S. Elmwood as a model they will use here. The renovation of the home was named Best Historic Restoration by the Buffalo Preservation Board and also by Business First’s Brick by Brick award program.
The rear portion of the complex is targeted for 16 apartments plus meeting and office space. Currently two stories, a third floor will be added in the towering second level space. All of the apartments will be one-bedroom units.
“There is a huge need for safe, affordable housing in the LBGT community,” says Jorien Brock, Senior Director of Pride Center of WNY.
The ornate sanctuary, which unlike the older portion of the complex has all of its original detailing, will be left intact. It will be used for training, special events and concerts and may be made available to other groups and organizations.
The purchase also provides Evergreen with parking for its employees and guests. Reconfigured, the church’s lot will be able to accommodate 40 to 45 cars.
The property will be heavily landscaped and to help build connections with the neighborhood Evergreen will add a community vegetable garden that will be open to residents, block clubs and building tenants. Prior to the sale, neighborhood residents had been pitching in to maintain the grounds of the church.
“We will continue to be a good neighbor and partner in the community,” says Voltz. “We love this neighborhood.”
West Side advocate Harvey Garrett has been consulting with Evergreen on the project and sees many positives.
“Buffalo is developing an impressive reputation for finding adaptive reuses of sacred spaces, despite the significant challenges created by their design,” he says. “The Evergreen Association’s reuse plans for the Prospect Avenue Church will be a win for the building, the neighborhood, the City of Buffalo, and for the organization; as well as the critical services they provide.”
For additional photos of the building, check out my Flickr page, Views of Buffalo