Alderman of Pilsen moves to Lower Zone St. Adalbert’s Church site to block development as archdiocese threatens legal action

PILSEN — The alderman of Pilsen has moved to relocate the beloved site of St. Adalbert’s Roman Catholic Church — and its owner, the Archdiocese of Chicago, is threatening to sue.

The city’s zoning committee voted 11-4 to support Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s (25th) push to rezone the site, limiting what can be developed on the site to 1628-1650 W. 17th St.

Tuesday’s vote brings the first-year alderman one step closer to fulfilling his years-long promise to block further gentrification in the old church.

The plan now goes to city council on Wednesday for final approval.

Sigcho-Lopez said he wants the developer taking over the site to engage with Pilsen neighbors and former St. Adalbert parishioners in a transparent process. Archdiocesan officials did not say Tuesday which developer wants to buy the site, what their plans are and how much they are paying.

“It is our attempt and our effort to bring everyone to the table and ensure parishioners and residents have a voice in this matter,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “…It is an opportunity for us to have a different approach to empty parishes, to give an opportunity to recreate and transform especially in times of crisis.”

But ahead of the vote, attorney Lisa Misher of the city’s legal department warned that the decision to relocate the property could result in lawsuits against the city.

“It will be considered private property in court and a court will consider whether this zoning change … is a legitimate downhill zone,” Misher said. “Based on our experience, I don’t think he would stand that test.”

Eric Wollan, the archdiocese’s capital director, said he will likely sue the city to “preserve our property rights” if the decommissioning proceeds.

Wollan said the archdiocese was in talks with a potential buyer, but would not release details about the buyer or the sale price. He said nothing is finalized but the potential buyer’s plans to reuse the buildings.

In 2016, the former Ald now disgraced. Danny Solis (25th) decommissioned Pilsen’s largest vacant site at 16th and Peoria streets from residential to industrial use, effectively block the development the. Real Estate Markets Group Promoter propose building 500 apartments and a park, but residents and activists, including Sigcho-Lopez, wanted more affordable housing.

After Solis downgraded the property, Property Markets Group sued the city in 2018. Earlier this year, the city purchased the site for $12 million to settle the lawsuit.

St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants. The current church building was built in 1912. In 2016, the Archdiocese announced that it would consolidate six churches in Pilsen into three. As part of the merger, St. Adalbert was to close. They cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and declining numbers of priests as reasons for reconfiguration.

Polish and Mexican parishioners fought for years to save him. The church hosted its last mass in 2019.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Hundreds of people fill the pews during the final mass of St. Adalbert in Pilsen in 2019.

Previous bids to sell the church failed

In the past four years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has twice contracted to sell the property, but both deals fell through.

More recently, City Pads, a developer that sparked anger among residents after “whitewashing” a mural at the Casa Aztlan community center, was under contract to buy the church complex for $4 million in September 2019 – months after the church was desecrated.

But a year later, the archdiocese and the developer said the deal was not on the cards but would not say why.

In 2019, after Block Club announced the $4 million deal, City Pads said it would not put housing in the old shrine building. At the time, City Pads said it wanted to build a co-housing apartment building on the site.

The company also planned to rehabilitate the convent and presbytery to make way for more apartments.

The property – consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and parking lot – spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood.

The Archdiocese announced in February 2016 that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million needed to repair the 185 foot towers of the church, who have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.

The archdiocese attempted to sell the church building in November 2016, when it entered into a contract with Chicago Academy of Music. This agreement also failed.

In September 2018, the archdiocese hired commercial real estate firm SVN Chicago to attempt to resell the property. A real estate advert at the time infuriated some Pilsen residents because it touted the church towers as “perfect for penthouses”. The language was later removed.

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Sara H. Byrd