Buffalo Church Becomes Landlord to Pay for ‘Higher Power’ Costs

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral – a 200-year-old religious sanctuary in Buffalo, New York – has spent the better part of a decade trying to decide what to do with its mostly vacant 121-year-old parish house on Pearl Street, according to a report last week by The Buffalo News. But on February 27, the historic church won approval from the Buffalo Planning Board to convert the space into seven market-rate apartments and a first-floor commercial office suite that will help pay for the church’s heating/energy bills, as well as other, mounting operational costs.

The Cathedral currently runs on an operating budget just shy of $1 million annually, including significant utility costs for heating and cooling the enormous sanctuary space, said the Very Rev. Will H. Mebane Jr.

“Our utility bills have gone through the roof this year,” Mebane told the local news outlet, adding, “”The intention is to use proceeds from the lease of the building to support the operation and mission of the Cathedral in perpetuity.”.

The $1.8 million reconstruction project –to be planned and administered by Schneider Design and Schneider Development, also of Buffalo – will be constructed by RP Oak Hill.

Church officials told The Buffalo News that they would seek state and federal historic tax credits, an energy-efficiency grant from National Grid, as well as tax incentives from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency under its Adaptive Reuse Program.

This is the second time such a project has been proposed, the newspaper said. A $3.34 million conversion to 11 apartments was suggested in 2011, after the office functions moved out, but it was never completed.

No tenant has been identified yet for the commercial space, but the church has said it would be ideal for a “little law firm, or accounting firm or something like that.”

The building would be owned, managed, leased and maintained by two for-profit affiliates that the church is forming and will control, the newspaper reported. That property transfer still needs to be approved by the Diocese and the New York Attorney General, under the state’s Religious Corporations Law, but “we’re hopeful that those will be forthcoming,” Mebane said.

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