After four years of trying to raze the historic building at 11th and Spring Garden Streets, the social service agency that owns the Church of the Assumption has sold it and the adjacent school, rectory, convent and land to a Chinatown developer.
Siloam, which helps clients with AIDS and their families, went to settlement with developer John Wei on July 5, said Siloam’s interim executive director Cathy Maguire. A letter informing Siloam constituents of the sale was sent out this week.
Wei told PlanPhilly today that he paid “a million plus” for the property. He said he had “no idea yet” what he will do with the site. “I want to see what we can do, and make the neighborhood happy,” Wei said.
The Callowhill Neighborhood Association has fought to preserve the church through Philadelphia Historical Commission hearings, Board of License and Inspection Review hearings, and most recently the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Judge Idee C. Fox heard arguments in May regarding the L&I board’s right to reverse the Historical Commission vote to allow the demolition of the church.
The sale’s impact on the court case – and the fate of the church building -- is yet to be determined.
But Andy Palewski, who wrote the nomination that led to the church’s designation on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2009, was cautiously optimistic. “It’s too early to jump to any conclusions,” he said. The sale to a developer “is very encouraging, but we don’t have enough information yet to know what it means for the property.”
Maguire, too, did not know how the change of ownership would affect the court proceedings. “We’re not sure of that. We’re in conversation about it.”
She also said “Siloam will now be able to focus on its mission and use all its energies toward that.”
The agency will continue to use and rent the space in the school building at 1133 Spring Garden St. until it finds a new location.
Wei has developed small apartment projects in the nearby Chinatown neighborhood, he said, but he did not know yet if redevelopment of the church properties would involve residential, retail or other uses.
Andy Toy, managing director of the Eastern Tower Project, a mixed-use property planned in Chinatown, said Wei is “a good guy, a reasonable person, and an entrepreneur who knows about redeveloping properties.”
Toy said the Chinatown Community Development Corporation would “promote the idea of preservation” of the church. “It’s a nice building and has a lot of history.”
Persuading Wei to restore the church is “just a matter of giving him a reason to preserve it. But there has to be an economic reason. We would encourage him to do that, and understand what the incentives are out there” for historic preservation.
Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett signed legislation last week establishing a 25 percent tax credit for historic preservation projects. Supporters of the legislation hope the state tax credit, combined with federal tax credit, will spark large-scale preservation projects.
The Church of the Assumption was designed and built in 1848-49 by Patrick Charles Keely, the nation’s most profilic ecclesiastical architect of the time. The church is the oldest surviving Keely structure. It was also consecrated by John Neumann, and was the site of Katharine Drexel’s baptism. Both became Catholic saints.
The Archdiocese abandoned the church property more than 15 years ago, and sold it to Siloam in 2006. The cost of restoring the church building had been estimated at $6 million.