SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

February 10, 2010

Church for sale in Salem

Shelter didn't get state money for apartments

SALEM — The former St. Mary's Italian Church is for sale.

Mark Cote, executive director of the Salem Mission, now known as Lifebridge, made the surprise announcement yesterday, saying the nonprofit organization has hired commercial real estate appraisers to set a price on the 1925 church building. The property will go on the market "as soon as we determine a value," Cote said.

This unexpected move comes just weeks after the shelter agency learned it was not selected in the latest round of state funding for its controversial plan to convert St. Mary's into 20 studio apartments for the homeless. It had applied for $2.9 million from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

The operators of the city's homeless shelter say they remain committed to expanding their housing program, and expect to reapply for state funds in September. Between now and Aug. 1, they said they will entertain bids for the church.

"We have a window here of six months," Cote said. "... And if somebody is interested in stepping up and preserving that building for the city and community, then we're all for it."

Cote said they are "open to any and all bids and proposals."

This announcement of a possible church sale comes amid several developments.

On Monday, the church's boiler "basically died," Cote said. That event could speed up plans to relocate the thrift store, which is now in the church basement.

Shelter officials say the largely vacant church building needs maintenance and is costly to keep open. The annual oil bill alone is about $12,000, Cote said.

"Since (the state) did not fund us in this round, our intention all along was to mothball the church, and that is the direction we are heading," he said.

On Feb. 24, Jessica Herbert, vice chairwoman of the Salem Historical Commission, will make a pitch to the shelter board about an alternative expansion plan.

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