Stalled St. Boniface residential conversion in new hands

Stalled St. Boniface residential conversion in new hands

The Noble Square church, out of service for three decades, will contain condos that incorporate its rose windows, limestone doorways and empty tower tops into their living space and terraces.

April 5, 2021
Dennis Rodkin

A well-established developer is taking over the stalled residential conversion of a monumental church in Noble Square that has been out of service for three decades.

Zev Salomon, principal of ZSD Development, said he has bought out Michael Skoulsky, whose Stas Development launched the rehab of St. Boniface Church in 2016. At the time, Stas’s plan was hailed as a breakthrough for a structure that had been deteriorating since 1990, when the Archdiocese of Chicago shut down the parish at Chestnut and Noble Streets. Nevertheless, the plan stalled.

Moving forward with the long-delayed project, Salomon said, “has a lot of moving parts. The church has been sitting there for 30 years, the roof is leaking, it’s a mess.”

Salomon, whose firm has completed high-end condo projects in the West Loop and Lakeview and last week broke ground on an affordable housing development in East Garfield Park, said ZSD paid off Stas’s “$5 million-plus” mortgage on the property. ZSD will take out a mortgage of its own to cover that amount. Cook County online records do not show the specifics on Stas’s mortgage.

Even in disrepair, the church “is a handsome gateway to the community that stands there overlooking Eckhart Park,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. Miller’s group grew out of a community effort in the late 1990s to stop demolition of St. Boniface, which the Archdiocese had been using for storage since shuttering it. In the years since, successive efforts to reactivate the building with senior housing and other uses have failed.

Miller said he was glad to see the rehab move ahead after a few years in limbo. It’s a model for other disused Catholic church buildings at a time when 80 Chicago parish churches “are closing, on probation or being combined with other parishes,” Miller said. “That’s more than any other city.”

In a redevelopment agreement signed with the city, Salomon said, he’s required to carry out the plans city ordinance approved for Skoulsky in 2018. That includes rehabbing the church, built between 1902 and 1904, into 17 or 18 condos and building two new structures where the parish’s rectory and school formerly stood. In all, the three buildings will contain about 41 new market-priced condominiums and eight that go into affordable housing programs.

"The city has been working to preserve the former church for more than a decade because of its unique design, its prominent location and the desire by Noble Square residents to save the building as a neighborhood focal point," Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of planning and development for the city of Chicago, said in an email. "It’s exciting to have a development entity in place that can finally move forward with an adaptive reuse plan that achieves several community goals."

The plan is to fit out the church building with condos that incorporate its huge rose windows, limestone entrances, soaring ceiling and open towers into their living spaces. They’ll be priced in the estimated range of $750,000 to $1.5 million, according to Cory Robertson, the Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty agent who will handle the sales effort.

Each of four condos will have its own street entrance through existing side entrances to the church, and the others will enter through the building’s front doors, Robertson said.

The interiors are still being laid out, he said, but will incorporate historical features. The big rose windows, he said, will not be divided up but will remain as designed, each hanging in one condo. Top-floor units may have 20-foot ceilings, following the historical ceiling line designed by Henry Schlacks, architect of many historical Chicago churches.

Details of those upper-floor penthouse units are yet to be settled, Robertson said.

Salomon said he hopes to start construction in the fall and deliver completed condos in the summer of 2022.

Just north of the church, on empty land where the rectory formerly stood, ZSD will build a new structure with eight condos for affordable housing programs, and east of the church, where the school was, will be a second new building with market-priced condos.

In the north building, ZSD will sell four of the condos according to the city’s affordable housing guidelines, which Salomon said would probably put them in the $250,000 range at the time they’re completed. ZSD will turn over the other four and the two ground-floor commercial spaces to the Northwestern University Settlement House, an anti-poverty service agency that has been headquartered about a block north since the 19th century.

Giving those units to the settlement is recompense that the city required since it sold the site to a previous developer for $1, Salomon said.

The settlement, which will keep its existing buildings, will put new office or program space on the new building’s first floor, said Ron Manderschied, its longtime director. For the condos, he said, the group is planning an “innovative type of workforce housing,” but he said he could not divulge details yet. They will be used as affordable housing, he confirmed.

City officials stipulated that work start first on the church and the affordable housing building, Salomon said. The third building, a 24-unit market-rate condo building east of the church with unobstructed views over Eckhart Park and potential views of the downtown skyline, has not yet been completely designed, he said. The target asking prices are not yet determined, Roberts said.



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