George DeLuca (Come to Lowell) took a tour of the under-renovation St Jean Baptiste Church on upper Merrimack Street and sent along these notes. From my conversation with George, it was abundantly clear that he was very enthused about the renovation results. With so many former churches in Lowell, finding a realistic re-use for them is very important. Perhaps this project can serve as a model.
Taya Dixon Mullane, President of Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group, David Ouellette, President of the Acre Coalition to Improve our Neighborhood (ACTION) and I attended a tour of the St. Baptiste Church this morning at 7am. The tour was conducted by the developer, Brian McGowan.
The church area is quite large and reminds me of a smaller version of Symphony Hall. It’s that beautiful. It’s dried in to the weather and the finishes are in-tact and quite remarkable. There are 2 balconies at the far end with the top one being for a wonderful organ with all the pipes. Operating condition is unknown, but it looks great from the main floor. The space is vacant, the alter, statues and stained glass are gone. But the woodwork, walls and ceiling work are all in excellent condition. Seeing is believing!
Brian is currently reviewing the feasibility of the church space being designated for general community use; performing arts, theater, concerts, community activities, etc. Obviously, there needs to be a community reach out process so that a proforma can be developed to see if the numbers can work. UML, MCC, the City, Neighborhoods, arts groups, etc. should be contacted to see if there’s a general interest. My sense is that if there is not such an interest, Brian will continue down the road of residential build out. But even he seems in awe of the space, and is hesitant about breaking it up and would like to see it stay in tact. Kudos to Brian for giving Lowell (stakeholders and residents) a chance to review the situation before he moves forward.
There are 56 on site parking spaces, with street parking & vacant lots nearby which may be available for major events. There are also 17 near ready apartment units in the structure connected to the church.
This could be the jewel in the crown when one considers integration with plans for Smith Baker Center and UML’s St. Joseph hospital build out; setting the stage for the entire neighborhood to rise to the next level of economic development. UML should take notice and make a point of arranging their own tour if they haven’t already. I also plan to arrange another tour(s) in the near future if there’s enough interest.