NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The former St. Francis of Assisi Church property has been sold to a real estate developer for more than $1.3 million.
The now empty church parcel at 55 Eagle St. and the former rectory at 12 Union, and a few smaller connected parcels, were purchased on Thursday by Colvest Group, operating as Colvest/North Adams LLC. Based in Springfield, the real estate development and management company owns commercial properties throughout Western Massachusetts.
Mayor Thomas Bernard said he had heard about interest in the property but was not aware of the purchaser or plans for it.
"I'm interested to learn what the developer plans to do with the site, as I'm sure the Planning Board will be," he said. "I expect I will be hearing from the company soon."
Colvest has specialized in developing mixed retail shopping centers and office spaces. A call to the company had not been returned by late afternoon.
The property had been listed with Colebrook Realty for $1.5 million. Colvest paid $1,385,852.
Colvest CEO Frank Colaccino said on Friday that there were no immediate plans for the property at this point.
"We think it's a great location in the downtown." he said. "So it became available, so we thought it would be worthwhile."
The company does see potential in the area and this would Colvest's first entry into Berkshire County. Its other holdings are in Hampshire and Hampden County. In the interim, the parcel would be maintained and the vacant rectory will remain at least for now.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has been trying to free itself of the problematic property since shortly after its closing nearly a decade ago. At the time, St. Francis was estimated to need at least $1 million in structural repairs and updates.
The prime corner lot had been listed for sale over the years, at one point for $599,000. The most significant interest had come from CVS Pharmacies but that was met with a backlash from concerned community members.
St. Francis was the city's oldest Catholic church and, at one point, the largest in New England. The idea that its steeple would be toppled for another pharmacy on an already busy corner was opposed by many in the so-called Steeple City. The Historical Commission put a one-year demolition delay on the property and more than 2,000 signatures were garnered in opposition. The city had already purchased one church, the closed Notre Dame, to keep its steeple intact. CVS backed off.
But attempts at salvation came to naught when the structural integrity of the 150-year-old steeple was called into question in May 2016. Pieces of the exterior began falling into the street and engineers hired by the diocese said it was unsafe. It would take most of the summer to demolish the 14,838-square-feet building and the annex attached to the rectory.
The diocese bore the burden of the demolition — which closed Eagle and North Church streets for a week — and the parish continued to owe property taxes because the church had been desanctified.
With the sale, the diocese paid off nearly $35,000 in property taxes dating back to 2011.
The rectory has been empty and the parking lot blocked off for some years. The empty hill where the church stood has been mowed and cleaned. The former administration had hoped that the diocese would gift the land to be added to Colegrove Park next door and a place made for the interior structure of the steeple, which was said to have been saved.
Comment from Colvest official added on Friday, Sept. 7.
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