Now’s your chance to a-choir a church
Father Cliff McMillan has served plenty of Communion during his days as the priest at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in downtown Glenwood Springs.Perhaps someday someone will serve him some bread and wine there instead.A restaurant is one of the many ideas being suggested for the downtown building after the parish leaves it this summer for bigger quarters near Valley View Hospital.Chris McGovern of Mason & Morse Real Estate has begun advertising the commercially zoned site for $1.2 million. That includes five city blocks, a total of 9,600 square feet of building space, including the church, church basement, and two-story former rectory.An antique mall, art gallery or spectacular home are some of her other ideas for the site.Others have their own ideas, but most everyone seems to think the church should remain standing, and probably will.”I wouldn’t want to see it torn down. I think it’s part of the ambience of the town,” said Jean Martensen, a Glenwood Springs City Council member who has been active in both downtown development and historic preservation issues.”I find it difficult to believe that anybody would knock it down, but you never know,” said McGovern, who is also a member of the church.”Almost everyone I have talked to has talked in terms of conversions instead of knocking it down,” she said.”I think it’s one of the most unique properties in the valley. It truly is a signature part of town, that’s for sure.”Former Glenwood mayor Bob Zanella is also a church member and was married there. But he accepts the idea of it transforming into something else.”We’re smart enough to realize a building’s a building. The building doesn’t make the church. The church is a spiritual aspect,” Zanella said.Said McMillan of the 60-year-old church, “It’s unfortunate that we are not able to keep the building, but it’s one of those parts of life. There’s a lot of affection for the little place.”Zanella hopes the building won’t be torn down.”Having grown up with it, in it, you’d like to see it stay. We all realize now that time marches on. Things like that could possibly happen.”But he said the building is structurally sound and can be put to good use.He dined at a Pueblo restaurant that once was a church.”It’s a different type of experience going out to dinner in a church,” he said.McGovern said a restaurant in Atlanta, called The Abbey, is in a church much like St. Stephen’s.She said she has spoken to one person who was seriously interested in the St. Stephen’s property for a restaurant.The property has only eight parking spaces, but McGovern said there are 75 in the city lot nearby, behind the Forest Service building. That’s used heavily on weekdays, but not in the evenings and on weekends, when a restaurant might operate.McGovern also considers a bed and breakfast, professional offices or condominiums as other good possible uses for the property.Architect David Hauter and builder Jock Jacober recently took a close look at the property, with the idea of renovating the church into townhomes. But Hauter, vice chair of the Downtown Development Authority board, said the financial numbers “weren’t working.””We still think it’s an interesting concept,” he said. He is a believer in trying to promote some residential development downtown.”People living downtown adds vitality to downtown,” he said.Martensen has similar ideas for the church.”I’d like to see either something commercial on the first floor or residential because I really feel a mixed-use downtown is going to make it more alive and vital, having more residents downtown.”A restaurant that would continue commercial development southward along Grand Avenue would be great, too, she said.She said it remains important to focus on the historical preservation aspect. And Hauter said his chief hope for the property is that the church not be demolished.Sue Plush, a staff member of the Frontier Historical Museum in Glenwood and a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said commission members have made only initial inquiries into what may happen to the church, but definitely want to see it stay standing.One possible future for the church is as a church. Zanella said he thinks that is still an entirely appropriate use for a downtown area, and parking isn’t a problem since plenty is available nearby on Sunday mornings.McGovern said she has had no interest yet from other congregations that might be in the market for a used church.The church won’t be sold to just anyone. McGovern said the Archdiocese prohibits sale of its properties for uses such as pornography shops, topless bars and abortion clinics, because these run contrary to the Catholic Church’s mission.Whatever becomes of the church, it will first go through a Catholic desanctification ceremony.Also, the sale doesn’t include the church pews, organ, piano, and altar and other religious appointments. St. Stephen’s is keeping those.The property’s sale will help defray the $4.5 million cost of building the new church.The sale is being handled through the Archdiocese, which McGovern said set the asking price. She said the price comes to about $150 per square foot of building space, which compares to an average of about $160 to $250 per square foot in Glenwood. Someone buying the property primarily for the church space could lease out the basement and former rectory, she noted.”There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
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