Friends of St. Mary's Tour Endangered Pittsfield Church
|Residents, elected officials and members of a group dedicated to saving St. Mary's toured the empty church on Friday afternoon. See more photos here.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A new advocacy group met with community leaders on Friday to tour the vacant St. Mary the Morningstar Church in the hope of exploring options for redeveloping the historic Tyler Street structure.
"The committee's hope is to provide and access to all interested parties who would like to take an active role in finding a suitable purpose for St. Mary's," said Darcie Sosa, spokesman for the newly formed Friends of St. Mary's.
The Friends were joined by a smattering of local businesspeople, city staff, elected officials and other residents in a walk through of the church building, which has been empty and largely unmaintained since it was decommissioned by the Diocese of Springfield in 2008.
Friends President William Barry expressed cautious optimism about the possibilities for saving the 72-year-old house of worship.
"I'm really excited to see this for the first time in six years, and what really good shape it's in, at least to the naked eye," Barry told iBerkshires.
Some signs of disrepair were evident throughout the tour, from small window breaks to larger degradation of walls and ceilings in a number of the smaller rooms outlying the main sanctuary, though most of the tour participants agreed that overall, the structural integrity of the building seemed far better than they had expected.
"I hope they can do something with it," said Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully, in whose ward the vacant church resides. "It's really a beautiful place."
Tully has been actively engaged in the discussion surrounding the future of the church and remains receptive to concerns from many in Ward 1 and throughout the larger community since demolition of the church was first proposed several weeks ago.
An application previously filed by Cafua Management to level the church and surrounding buildings on the 2.6 acre St. Mary's property to make way for a new Dunkin' Donuts was withdrawn suddenly just two weeks after it was submitted, in response to opposition from more than 1,500 area residents.
"We've knocked down a lot of buildings that we shouldn't have," Tully said. "I'd like to see us stop doing that, if we can. But it's going to take a lot of work."
Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who arranged Friday's site tour, expressed appreciation to the Friends committee, and said he remains open to the possibility that the building could be redeveloped.
"It will take an incredible amount of effort to save St. Mary's," Bianchi stated, suggesting that it may take the collaboration of more than one organization to generate the right proposal. "But buildings like this have been reused."
Sosa said the group envisions working hand in hand with potential developers, local government, and the Diocese, and a variety of local institutions to help facilitate that kind of reuse.
Additionally, she said the committee is working to develop a broader marketing campaign to try to solicit more interest in the property, which Cafua Management has offered to potentially donate back to the community in exchange for support of its revised proposal for a drive-through restaurant. This usage will require approval of a special permit from the City Council, an authorization Cafua was denied last year for another planned drive-through across town at the site of the recently demolished Plunkett School.
Barry said the ad hoc committee has already received inquiries from several parties with a potential interest in taking on the building.
"We have to sound them out and see how credible they are," he said. "This is the first step in what is probably a long, long ways to go."
Former parishioner Tammy Cracolici, who is the committee's secretary, sees potential for the building in which she once worshipped.
"This could be a beautiful space for so many things," she said.
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