CVS has stated it is not interested in St. Francis Church. Below, Josh Field's take on what the corner would look like without the church.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The soaring steeple of St. Francis of Assisi Church is safe — at least in the short term.
CVS Pharmacies stated on Friday it was not interested in acquiring the church property at the corner of Eagle and Union streets.
But it's still interested in North Adams.
"I have spoken with a person with the company who has confirmed that the St. Francis building is off of their radar," said Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The mayor said he sent a letter explaining the historical and economic significance of St. Francis to the "Steeple City" to top executives at CVS last week asking to meet with them. The result was Friday's news the pharmacy would look at alternative locations; CVS officials are expected to meet with the mayor next week.
That was confirmed by CVS Director of Public Relations Michael DeAngelis, who wrote in an email that "while we are exploring opportunities to relocate our North Adams store, we are not pursuing a store location at the St. Francis Church property."
A local group has been petitioning CVS, the nation's largest pharmacy chain, to consider adapting the historic structure rather than razing the landmark building. The petition, started by Josh Field, and a sudden flurry of Facebook and local activity over the past month may have been enough to change minds.
"There are so many people who are passionate about this building," said Kurt Kolok, who began working last summer on ways to save the building. "The message to them is we're not trying to work against you, we're trying to make sure it's sold and preserved.
"It's good we have a responsible corporation in the city who wants to be a good citizen."
Field thought his image of what the corner would look like with a pharmacy instead of St. Francis helped stir interest; more than 2,200 people have signed the petition, which is available online and at Bark 'N Cat on Holden Street.
The church has been shuttered since 2008 when the Catholic Diocese of Springfield consolidated parishes in the light of declining communicants and rising costs. There was brief talk about a vigil (a la St. Stanislaus) to save the 1863 church, the first Catholic church in the city, but the estimated $1 million price tag to repair the structure scotched that.
The property, which includes the more modern rectory and a parking lot, has been listed with Colebrook Realty and is currently at $599,000.
Rumors of CVS being interested in the property have circled for nearly two years. In 2012, the City Council approved a preservation ordinance introduced by the mayor that gives the Historical Commission the authority to delay demolition of buildings older than 50 years for up to a year. The purpose was to encourage reuse and alternatives.
Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said he could not comment on any real estate agreements until they have been finalized.
The city's first Catholic Church, St. Francis was built in 1863 and sits within a historic district.
"As for the parish and this property, they continue to hope for a solution which will address their legitimate financial needs and community interests," said Dupont. "Unfortunately, as is often the case, those who stand in the way have no financial stake in the outcome, but for the parish it is a critical part of their future."
Alcombright, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth's Church, agreed that something needed to be done to relieve the parish's financial woes.
"I need to work hard and this community needs to work hard to find an adaptive reuse for this building," he said. "The parishioners are depending on this to happen for the financial health of this parish ... sometimes being part of the solution can be part of the problem."
The church building's future has engendered hard feelings over the past few years: the parish has felt the burden while those outside the parish have pushed for preservation but with no dollars to back it up. The mayor twice rejected a possible compromise — putting the steeple on a pedestal in the parking lot or having the city take the landlocked church only.
The first wouldn't preserve the city's skyline, Alcombright said, and the city wasn't prepared to take another church (it already owns Notre Dame). The mayor has insisted private money would have to be used to preserve the building.
"Father Cyr and the St. Elizabeth community have gone to extraordinary lengths to find an appropriate re-use and have repeatedly tried to work with North Adams officials and community leaders, but in every instance after agreeing to the mayor's request for a delay they have been let down by his failure to bring about any resolution," said Dupont, referring to the proposals.
Kolok and Josh Field said the Save St. Francis group wants to help the diocese find the right buyer, and has been working toward a solution in the background.
"That's huge," Kolok said of CVS's withdrawel. "But it doesn't solve the problem.
"We still need to try to help them and find the right buyer for the property. We're working on that. We're working with the city councilors to continue to make sure these buildings are protected."