By Pete Mazzaccaro
Local developer Ken Weinstein has made a practice of rehabbing and reusing old churches that have lost their congregations or otherwise gone defunct. His company Philly Office Retail transformed St. Peter’s Church, at Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street, into the home of The Waldorf School. They’re transforming St. Michaels Church into a Wayne Junction campus, part of a large-scale redevelopment of the area Weinstein began a couple years ago.
Weinstein said that most of the churches he’s worked with were essentially abandoned by their congregations. They went out of business as church members moved or simply left religion, their ranks not replaced by newcomers.
“There has been a movement away from belonging to churches,” the developer said. “All these churches built here over the last 200 years, we’re over churched. They’re not all going to survive. One by one they’re going out of business. If we don’t step up, purchase and renovate them, they’re going to go into the ground.”
The Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church at 7111 Germantown Avenue represents a bit of a departure from that formula. Instead of abandoning their church property, church members saw their inability to keep up with deferred maintenance and decided to strike a deal to preserve their congregation.
“They reached out to me and said ‘We would like to stay, we would like to regroup and we would like to try to build our community. But we have a lot of extra space,’” Weinstein said. “They had roughly 25,000 square feet extra beyond what they needed.”
Weinstein purchased the 1.5-acre property for $464,656 in 2014. The sanctuary has been leased back to the church, which will continue to hold services there. The rest of the building, which consisted of a large series of classrooms, parish hall and gymnasium, are nearly done being transformed into 19 luxury condominiums.
At first, Weinstein worked with a co-housing group on the property. But those plans fell through, and the market got to the point where condos made sense. So Weinstein partnered with Scott Seibert of residential development firm Bancroft Green for 7111 Germantown Ave.
Seibert is no stranger to condominiums. His firm developed the 24-unit condo complex at 520 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy. 7111 Germantown Ave, when it is completed, will be the third condo complex to be built in the Northwest Part of the city in the last 10 years, with 520 Carpenter Lane and the Bowman Properties developed One West condos in Chestnut Hill.
Seibert, who lives a block away from the project in East Mt. Airy, said he was attracted to the project as a fan of adaptive reuse. While the economics tend to favor knocking old structures down and starting from scratch, there’s a charm and challenge to taking on a project like 7111 Germantown Ave.
“I was attracted to this building because the spaces were large enough to work with.,” he said. “In some older buildings, that’s just not possible. But this one works. We’re pleased with how it’s turning out.”
The project, Seibert said, is nearly eight weeks from completion. Prices for the units range from approximately $400,000 for the sole one-bedroom unit in the building, to about $1.1 million for a three bedroom. The units are modern, open and contain various elements of the old architecture of the property, from wood rafters in the old gym to the exposed stone walls of the outside of the rear parish. Old walls give way to new glass windows and new construction finishes the third floor. Each unit has state-of the art insulation and sound proofing. It will, Seibert said, keep out the sound of neighbors’ footsteps and the traffic of Germantown Avenue.
“You can live on Germantown Avenue but don’t have to hear Germantown Avenue,” Weinstein said.
Who wants high end condos in Mt. Airy? Seibert said that a majority of the buyers at 520 Carpenter Lane were actually residents of 19119. They were homeowners who love the neighborhood but felt they could downsize. It’s too early to tell if the same pattern will hold for 7111 Germantown Ave., but one of four buyers so far lives less than two blocks from the site. Because of the work Weinstein has put in, both in residential and commercial space in the neighborhood, Seibert said, there’s a good market for two- and three-bedroom condos in Mt. Airy.”
“We’ve benefited from Ken’s vision to stabilize and help the neighborhood grow,” he said. “The project was unfathomable a decade ago. I think this project will further help.”
For more information, see 7111germantown.com