THE IMPENDING CLOSURE OF 60 Catholic churches in eastern Massachusetts has left many parishioners distraught, but it may be a boon to area developers.
In May, the Archdiocese of Boston announced it would sell the churches, attributing closings to declining church attendance, a shortage of priests, and financial trouble. The statement also came after the Boston Archdiocese's decision to settle clergy sexual abuse lawsuits for $85 million.
None of the churches was supposed to be sold before officially closing, and the first closings were scheduled for late August. Each of the churches will be independently appraised prior to being put on the market, says Dudley Mulcahy, the archdiocese's chancellor of real estate.
One estimate pegs the combined value of the churches at about $120 million. Real estate appraiser Eric Reenstierna says, however, that figure isn't likely to be accurate, because some towns didn't keep updated assessments on the untaxed properties. “It remains to be seen whether they get that kind of money,” he says, but the Archdiocese can be assured that each of the churches is likely to be attractive to developers.
Reenstierna expects that most of the churches will be redeveloped for residential use: They could be used for condos in urban areas, and suburban churches could be converted into single-family homes.
But developers also will have to deal with the negative aspects of church rehabilitation such as poor natural light. Even stain-glass windows might not reel in buyers. “If they're decorative, they're great,” says Reenstierna. “But sometimes a religious theme is not what somebody wants to look at while they're eating dinner.”