A petition aimed at preventing the demolition of a church in North Adams, Massachusetts is gaining some traction.
A group called Save St. Francis has been spreading its message since early 2013 by way of Facebook and collecting signatures on hard copy and online petitions that more than 2,500 have signed. The goal is to prevent the demolition of St. Francis Church, which is rumored to be set for demolition to make way for a CVS pharmacy. Kurt Kolok is part of the group attempting to stop the building’s demolition.
“We don’t want it to sit there,” Kolok said. “We want it to have a new life and we want it to be completely rehabilitated. Part of what has happened over the last year, has been that awareness has been raised that this is an impending issue and that we need to address it.”
Built in 1863, St. Francis is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the city, but has been vacant and on the market since 2009 after the congregation merged with St. Anthony to become St. Elizabeth. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says he hasn’t heard anything definite on current plans for the church.
“We market the city as a steeple city,” Alcombright said. “People come here to see the vista and the skyline. I say ‘skyline’ like it’s the city of New York, it’s not. It’s a very different skyline. For those of us who still remember and have lived through urban renewal, to see another beautiful, historic building come down in the city, quite honestly its frightening. It really is frightening because then you think about what’s next.”
Last spring, St. Elizabeth’s Reverend William Cyr wrote a letter saying he had grown frustrated at the lack of action regarding St. Francis while the parish continues to pay $30,000 in property taxes annually. In the letter he laid out failed talks by the Diocese of Springfield, the city of North Adams, along with CVS and other groups interested in acquiring the church to come up with a plan for the structure that was suitable for all involved. Mark Dupont is a Diocese spokesman. He says plans to repurpose the church have been put on hold over the past few years because city officials have asked the Diocese to delay, citing other interested parties.
“Having exhausted all our conversations with city officials and none of them have to come to any fruition, it’s really unfair that the parish community continues to hold onto this and pay real estate taxes and have interference by city officials into any meaningful redevelopment of that land,” said Dupont.
Alcombright, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth, says he would love to see a business move into the church, but not at the cost of the steeple. He says he also understands the financial undertaking repurposing the church would pose.
“If they need me to, I’ll sign their petition right on the steps of the church,” said Alcombright.
A spokesman for CVS did not respond to requests for comment. Alcombright says he has written a letter to CVS executives hoping they will meet with him personally. The mayor says he sees promise in the company’s recent decision to ban tobacco products from its stores.
“Here’s a company that’s willing to give up literally millions and millions of future profit dollars for the sake of the public good,” the mayor said. “What can they do in North Adams to help us maintain the steeple while still maybe coexisting with a business.”
Before demolition of the church proceeds, it must be approved by the city’s Historical Commission, which under an ordinance passed in June 2012 can impose a one-year delay on demolition of buildings 50 years or older.