As the demographic changes in Brooklyn's immigrant-turned-hipster neighborhoods continue their rapid acceleration, the buildings that once served the religious needs of immigrant communities are becoming increasingly attractive targets for land-hungry developers.
In a quick progression emblematic of the well-worn immigrants-to-artists-to-gentrificatiers arc, a Brooklyn developer recently signed a lease with the Diocese of Brooklyn for many of the peripheral buildings at St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Greenpoint, including the former elementary school and nuns' residence, buildings which once served the neighborhood's Irish immigrant parishioners but that, for the past few years, had evolved with the neighborhood and become a center of artistic activity.
As I reported in the Times a couple years ago, the economic downturn and a visionary pastor turned St. Cecilia's, briefly, into an artsits' idyll:
At St. Cecilia’s, the decision had been made by spring 2008 to close its school. At the time, condominium buildings were springing up like glassy weeds all over Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and the diocese began marketing the school, schoolyard and other empty buildings to developers. But then the real estate market crashed, and that slice of the St. Cecilia property was no longer attractive. The pastor began thinking about a Plan B, and about the artists flooding into the neighborhood.
The result was an ad hoc arts commune, where on any given day a film shoot or two might be happening while a band rehearsed and painters, sculptors, and choreographers went about their work in classrooms-turned-studios. But the arts program was shuttered in 2012, and the church is back to plan A: as the Real Deal reported, a Brooklyn developer recently signed a 49-year lease after it was approved by a judge in January (by state law, any sale or lease of religious buildings requires court approval), with permits filed in late May. From the Real Deal:
The Williamsburg developer Seventeen Monitor LLC will pay an annual rent that starts at $1.2 million and that rises to $3.2 million in year 46, according to documents filed with the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. ... The lease covers four properties, including the former school at 17 Monitor Street, on a block shared with St. Cecilia’s. The lease started March 11 and runs through March 31, 2062, city property records filed May 28 show.... The developer has filed plans to convert two of the buildings into residential apartments, city Department of Buildings records show. The largest is the 49,685-square-foot 17 Monitor Street [the former school building], which is expected to be converted into 69 residential apartments .... The other building with conversion plans on file was 21 Monitor Street [the former convent building], a three-story building which they propose to convert to a 15-unit apartment building.
The Brooklyn Diocese has been very cautious with its properties up until this point, but this seems like a savvy move, and it will be very interesting to watch what happens over the coming years with the hundreds of other underutilized buildings it owns.
(View my photos of the art show referenced in the Times piece, and the interior of the convent building, in this flickr set.)