Selling process still in early stages

Rumors are spreading about the fate of the buildings and properties that will be disposed of once the reconfiguration is completed. Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the Moderator of the Curia and in charge of coordinating the work of reconfiguring parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, told The Pilot she is getting phone calls from anguished parishioners saying that their parishes have already been sold.

According to Heck, references are appearing in local newspapers from developers, “saying they have already signed a P&S [purchase and sale agreement] and that anybody else had better not bother inquiring about the property.”

Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, denied the validity of those references. “We are not selling any property connected with any parish that is closing,” he stated in an interview with The Pilot.

Father Coyne explained that no parish can be sold until it is closed, and that has not happened yet. An official decree will be enacted by Archbishop O’Malley before the end of June, and parishes, with several exceptions, will then close following a schedule of two, four or six months.

“Under the great public scrutiny that we have faced during the last two years and that we continue to face, there is absolutely no way that the archdiocese could get away with ever selling a piece of property and [it] not be a matter of public record,” Father Coyne said.

He continued: “The fact that there is no public record of any sale of property or any purchase and sale agreement or any offer on any property of a parish that is closing proves that Archbishop O’Malley and the administration of the archdiocese are people of their word and are truthful in this matter ...”

The archdiocese is still in the early stages in planning for the final disposition of the parish properties slated for closure. These properties usually include the church building, a rectory, a parking lot and, in some cases, other buildings such as a convent or parish center. The closure of additional parishes in the cities of Lawrence and Lowell is expected to be announced soon.

The first step in the process of selling properties, according to David H. O’Brien, Director of Properties of the Archdiocese of Boston, will be to secure the properties once they are closed. After evaluating several proposals, the archdiocese has hired a real estate firm, The Codman Company, Inc., which — under the direction of the Office of Facilities — will be responsible for the closing of the parish properties and their management until the final disposition is determined. Their responsibilities will include, among others, replacing the keys to the property, making sure the fire alarms work, the snow is removed in winter and an inventory of the property is made.

The second step in the process will be to appraise the value of those properties that are going to be closed. After a search, the archdiocese chose T.H. Niles Real Estate Group, Inc., to coordinate the appraisal effort. Steve Mahoney of Niles will the coordinate the appraisal project that will be a team collaboration with three other appraisers firms: Marotta Valuation Advisors, Inc., Akerson & Wiley, Inc., and Guidry & Platt Real Estate Analysis, said O’Brien. “We have come up with a very unique solution,” he explained.

O’Brien declined to speculate about the final disposition of the properties. “It is anticipated that as we move through the process we will be communicating openly,” he said.

“We are going to want to make known who is marketing [the properties] and when they are being marketed, because it is in our own self interest to have the broadest exposure to maximize the value,” he said.

Once a property is marketed, an approval process by the archdiocese has to take place before the archbishop agrees to dispose of the property. Furthermore, according to Chancellor David Smith, who explained the approval process in an opinion piece in the June 4 edition of The Pilot, “No sales or leases are entered into without the approval of [the Real Estate Advisory Committee].”

In his article, Smith further explained that the approval process depends on the value of the property: “If, for example, the value exceeds $500,000 the archbishop would need the consent of the Archdiocesan Finance Council and the College of Consultors to sell. In addition, the Holy See’s permission is required if the value exceeds $5 million for a parish property or $10 million for properties owned by the archdiocese.”

O’Brien reiterated that no sales have taken place, because the process is still being created. “Those people who are concerned that the church has been sold out from under them ... that is not true because of [where] we are at in the process.”

“The final resolution won’t be until 2005 at the earliest,” he said.