This track is aimed at congregations, neighborhood advocates, municipal planners, local developers and others interested in the wise re-use of former religious properties. The speakers will illustrate how these places factor into community identity as well as the local economy, and therefore why they should be primary targets for re-investment. A range of successful redevelopment projects will be presented, noting the challenges overcome and lessons learned in each.
Session 1: Culture, Community & Economics: Why These Places Must Be Re-used
Time: 10:45 AM – 12:00 PM
Moderator: Christine Capella Peters/ Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, New York State Historic Preservation Office
New York has extraordinary sacred places valued for their historic, architectural, artistic or cultural significance. They are demonstrable components of community identity and often critical to community image. They serve not only as centers for religious activities, but also as venues for civic events, local commerce, and public service. Due in part to their usually large size and unique spaces, they can accommodate many people and in turn release great numbers into the community. They are anchors within neighborhoods and along thoroughfares, important to the physical and economic fabric of a place. These are embedded characteristics that transcend any particular religious purpose, and imbue these properties with an importance that cannot be ignored.
• Cultural Identity: Dennis Earle teaches in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. He will discuss how sacred places have always been an important expression of human beliefs, values and aspiration, integral to a community’s way of life and its very understanding of reality. Mr. Earle also will trace the evolution of key sacred forms associated with “western civilization” and the major faith traditions of our own society—looking at what sacred places communicate and how they do so.
• Community & Neighborhood Stability: Andrew M. Maxwell, Director of the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency, will describe the challenges and benefits associated with former sacred spaces within the urban landscape. He will examine the inherent tangible and intangible value of these places as unique neighborhood assets essential to authentic community place-making.
• Economic Value: Robert Doucette is a principal with Armory Development & Management in Syracuse with extensive experience in rehabilitating historic properties. Drawing on this expertise, he will discuss the economic benefits associated with re-using redundant sacred places, as well as the possible financial fall-out for communities if these properties are not redeveloped.
Session 2: What Do We Do Now? Facing the Challenge
Time: 1:15 PM – 2:30 PM
Moderator: Kate Auwaerter/Preservation Planner, Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency
Repurposing sacred places can be an exacting venture. These properties usually have complex massing and substantial scale, sometimes involve more than one building, include vast interior spaces of two or more stories in height, and incorporate architectural details and expressive use of materials. Although generally attractive physical characteristics, these attributes often are viewed as hindrances to accommodating new uses. They also sometimes clash with contemporary building codes and similar regulations, and thereby impact design alternatives. Perhaps more than anything, adapting these properties requires substantial economic investment and creative financing. But understanding and accepting these inherent challenges is the first step in ensuring former religious properties can remain culturally significant, productive places.
• New Uses: A. Robert Jaeger is President of Partners for Sacred Places. Drawing from a Partners initiative piloted in Johnstown PA, he will explore one model for dealing with vulnerable historic religious properties. His remarks will show how the project galvanized local interest, generated ideas for potential new uses, and engaged the design community to conceptualize the repurposing of the sanctuary and other spaces.
• Complications: Joe Fama, Executive Director of TAP, Inc., Troy NY, will provide an overview of code and regulatory challenges that arise when redeveloping older, special-use buildings. Of particular note, he will address possible alternate uses for sacred places, presenting those that minimize code complications and those that are more difficult to accommodate.
• Financing: Murray F. Gould, of Port City Preservation LLC, will discuss the financial challenges and opportunities encountered when considering the adaptive reuse of a former sacred place. In addition to providing a general overview of traditional financing tools, he will share real-life examples used on successful projects, including the use of NYS and federal historic preservation tax credits.
Session 3: How They Made It Work: Successful Re-Use Projects
Time: 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM
Moderator: Elizabeth Crawford/Senior Associate, Crawford & Stearns
Sometimes it seems like a miracle, at other times clearly the result of meticulous planning. Temporarily dormant but safe-guarded, versus fully functioning and in tip-top shape. The surprising result after a few frantic days, or the culmination of years of effort and commitment. Thanks to the persistence of a dedicated few, and sometimes an entire community. Regardless of specific circumstances, countless former religious properties have been saved from abandonment and destruction, and successfully adapted for a wide variety of new purposes. They stand as testimony to what is possible and on many levels serve as an inspiration to others.
• A Multi-Use Facility: Michael Long, a longtime advocate for preservation in Auburn NY and former board member of the Community Preservation Committee Inc., will describe the creative measures used to save the Louis Comfort Tiffany-designed Willard Memorial Chapel from destruction. He also will discuss the unique mix of uses currently in-place that make the property an important multi-purpose facility.
• A School: Matthew W. Meier is a partner with HHL Architects, which was instrumental in designing the rehabilitation of the former St. Mary of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church complex in Buffalo NY. He will explain the unique challenges overcome to reconfigure this multi-building campus for use as the King Urban Life Center and King Center Charter School.
• A Restaurant: The Rev. Daren Jaime of the Save 711 Project will discuss the diverse coalition behind repurposing the former AME Zion Church in Syracuse. His remarks will include an overview of plans for creating and managing the property as the Benediction Café, which will incorporate a professional jobs training program run by a not-for-profit community development corporation.
• A Hotel: Christine Tucciarone of Woodbine Hospitality will present the Hotel Skyler, an eclectic boutique hotel located near the Syracuse University campus. Built in 1921 as Temple Adath Yeshurun and later the home of Salt City Theatre, this reclaimed gem has 58 guest rooms that mix technology with artisan details and meets LEED Platinum standards.
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