The massive decaying Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the heart of Boston’s Latin Quarter is about to get new life breathed into it by a developer with a track record for similar projects.
The Hyde Square Task Force exclusively told GBH News on Monday that its board of directors selected Pennrose as the 108-year-old church’s developer for a mixed-use project, which includes much-needed affordable housing for the area and public performance spaces for artists and youth.
“We recognize that this is the beginning of a partnership with Pennrose,” said Celina Miranda, the executive director of the Hyde Square Task Force. “The HSTF Board believes that Pennrose has the highest likelihood of a great outcome for the community and for our organization.”
A group of former parishioners, Jamaica Plain residents, and activists called Friends of the Blessed Sacrament told GBH News they applauded the choice of developer, citing Pennrose‘s experience and the housing options that it will bring to the area.
“The proposed housing mix that includes a significant amount of affordable housing that will allow residents and families of a wide range of incomes to be able to call Blessed Sacrament home,” the group said in a statement.
Friends of the Blessed Sacrament pushed back against the Task Force when the church was initially put up for sale without restrictions, citing concerns that the space could be converted to high-cost housing.
Charlie Adams, New England Regional Vice President at Pennrose, told GBH News the firm incorporated more affordable housing units into its proposal in response to community feedback. The final calculations, he said, are in flux.
“Our goal is to preserve and transform this beloved, historic asset into a high-quality, multi-purpose development for residents, neighbors and the surrounding community to enjoy,” said Adams.
Of the 52 proposed new housing units, more than half will be affordable housing, the Task Force told GBH News, with 20 of units at 120% of average median income, 16 will be at 60%, 8 units at 50% and 8 at 30%.
Miranda said the board selected Pennrose due to the benefits to the neighborhood in the form of a 200-person performance space, capital support to help pay off the Task Force's property debt on the church, and consideration in the naming of the new building.
The Task Force will retain an ownership stake in the proposed 200-seat performance space, Adams confirmed.
Pennrose will purchase the church for less than its asking price of $2.5 million, though the price and sale conditions are still being negotiated.
Two other finalists were competing to develop the space: NuVu Studio, which proposed a private high school in the building, and Alvarado & Beaujean, which also submitted housing and performance space plan, but with more restrictions on community use.
Doña Betsaida Gutiérrez, a former parishioner and long-time community activist who expressed concerns about the community process of the sale to GBH News back in July, said she appreciates the boost in public engagement from HSTF and the community.
“As a result of your work and your voice, the board members of the Hyde Square Task Force made the right choice in selecting Pennrose as the future developer for the Blessed Sacrament Church,” she said.
The Task Force purchased the building in 2014 with the goal of creating a youth center, but scrapped the plan when it couldn’t find a developer. Other space on the property was converted to 80 affordable housing units under a previous owner, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, which in turn had purchased the property from the Archdiocese of Boston in 2005.
Pennrose was founded in 1971 with the goal of “profoundly impacting the lives of working families through the development of affordable housing,” according to its website. Since then, it’s been involved with 265 developments, including many in Boston. The developer is working on Boston’s first LGBTQ-supported senior housing in Hyde Park, to be housed at the former William Barton Rogers Middle School.
The development process is just beginning. Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Salon and a leader of the Latin Quarter Business Association, said she hopes and expects “that the Task Force and Pennrose will continue to involve residents, merchants and other members of the Latin Quarter as the project goes forward.”