Condos will replace church

By Molly Schranz

St. Stephen’s Church, a historic building on Blackstone Avenue that has been vacant for the past five years, will be converted into condominiums for members of the Hyde Park Community, according to Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston.

“I think it will be a terrific building,” said Linda Neal, an attorney and Blackstone resident, who started an e-mail list two years ago, called 5600 Blackstone Homeowners Group, to keep the homeowners in the Blackstone and Dorchester area informed about the building’s development.

The development of the former Christian Science church has been progressing slowly since it was bought five years ago by Antoniou MickShea, a Chicago development firm. “The community got together to know what was going on on the block,” Hairston said, referring to past meetings about the development of the property.

According to Alice Schlessinger, president of the Hyde Park Historical Association, “There was a brief flurry of effort to find some other use for the building, but none turned out to be feasible.”

After several meetings, the community has decided to back the developers in their plan to turn the church into condominiums, contingent on the fact that the residents remain informed of the architectural plans.

“Their efforts were in good faith but misguided,” Neal said of the developer’s first three architectural plans. “Finally on the fourth try they got an architect who was talented and in tune with the neighborhood and willing to listen, Richard J. Abraham.”

The current plans for the building will maintain the original ornate limestone façade, constructing the condominiums from behind. It will also provide plenty of off-street parking, a concern of community residents.

“We want a first-class project and we want there to be plenty of off-street parking,” Neal said. She suggested that part of the reason the church, which was built in 1919 by University architects Coolidge and Hudson, had closed was because too many residents were unable to find parking.

The development project has encountered many delays and has yet to acquire a demolition permit.

Part of the reason the developer has yet to acquire a demolition and building permit is the economy, said Hairston. “Since 9-11, the stock market is different,” she said.

“It’s a very ambitious plan, twenty condos in one small space,” said one member of Neal’s group. “It’s a very difficult situation.”

Residents who have hopes for the building are finding it hard to keep them as the project lingers. “I always thought their plan was more optimistic than it should have been,” Schlessinger said about the developer’s plans to sell the condominiums for several hundred thousand dollars each. “I don’t think anybody wants this space anymore.”

“It has definitely not moved as fast as we would like,” Hairston said. “But we are definitely moving forward as was reported to me.”