Joliet church’s conversion stalled
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org September 9, 2013 9:12PM
The front entrance to St. Mary Carmelite Church is boarded up. People got into the building last winter while a plan to renovate the church has stalled. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:16AM
JOLIET — A plan to renovate St. Mary Carmelite Church is in limbo.
Developer Scott Henry saved the 19th century structure in downtown Joliet from anticipated demolition when he acquired it last year from the Joliet Diocese, planning to convert it into senior apartments.
But Henry said Monday that financing for the project was foiled when he was unable to get access to a federal tax credit that could have drawn most of the investment money needed to begin work.
Henry said a year ago that he hoped to start renovations by early 2013 and open apartments in 2014, Now he said he has no timetable for beginning the project.
Meanwhile, a special use zoning permit granted for the project has expired. Henry would have to get another special use permit from Joliet, which is being sued for granting the initial permit.
“We’re looking at a number of different options,” Henry said when asked about the status of the project. “We still have the property. We’re monitoring it. We’re just evaluating options.”
Initially, Henry said the project could cost $20 million, but he now pegs the cost at closer to $10 million because there aren’t as many environmental problems in the old church as he thought.
Henry’s Chicago-based development company, Celadon Holdings, acquired the building last year for a token price from the diocese. Diocesan officials acknowledged that they had considered demolition because of the building’s condition and a lack of development interest.
City officials also welcomed Henry’s interest in the building because of the historic nature of the church, a limestone structure built in 1882 and the second Catholic church established in Joliet.
Demolition may have to be considered if Henry cannot move forward with the project, said James Haller, the city’s director of community and economic development.
“I don’t think there are too many people around here who would want to see that,” Haller said. “It’s a historical building. It’s a significant part of the city skyline.”
At least one person who favors demolition is Richard Kavanagh, whose law firm is next to the church. The firm sued Joliet for allowing the special use permit, contending that the 40 apartments planned for the building exceed the city’s housing density regulations. The lawsuit is still in court.
Kavanagh said Monday that the old church building is a hazard.
“Pieces of tile fly off the roof on occasion. Somebody could be hurt,” he said. “There are pieces of tile that in heavy wind or heavy snow have come down.”
A walk around the church shows continued deterioration. Paint chips peeling off of door and window frames litter the raised platform outside the front entrances. A top section of the stone wall at the top of the platform was falling apart. And a hand railing along one side of the front steps fell off and was lying on the stairs.
Henry said the longer the church goes without repair, the greater the chances that expensive repair problems could develop.
“We’ve already run into some maintenance issues,” he said. “We’ve had some costs. We’re motivated to make something happen.”