What happens to buildings when the Diocese of Buffalo merges?

Buffalo, New York (WBEN) – Time is running out for at least 15 Catholic churches in Western New York to close by mid-July or announce alternative plans as the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo announced last week the launch of downsizing operations that will leave 34% of Western New York parishes. York merged with other churches, inevitably leaving more than 60 of their places of worship vacant.

What will become of the churches when they are finally sold?

Peter Hunt, president and CEO of Hunt Real Estate, notes that the most likely outcome for real estate developers is to turn churches into residential properties.

“The way the churches are laid out on their plots doesn’t really lend itself to retail. Maybe one or two churches could lend themselves to that sort of thing. They could, and I mean lend themselves to some sort of retail office use, or other commercial use. But right now there’s a huge amount of it that I think will ultimately go unused across the country. I don’t think we need more at the moment, ultimately, for me, the projects selected will be largely residential.

A recent example of a converted church in Buffalo mentioned by Hunt is the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church at the corner of Hoyt Street and Bird Avenue, which has been converted to condominiums.

Hunt says there are developers in Buffalo who specialize in converting old churches, but very few. It can take several years for plans and developers to purchase property and develop plans.

Hunt advises the diocese to be strategic in its listings and not put its properties on the market all at once.

“One of the problems is that when so many buildings come on the market almost at the same time, it creates a market value problem. I certainly hope that they don’t do it all at once and that they ‘will introduce gradually over a period of time so that the market can absorb what they put on the market and the market absorbs them.

Another possible idea for the buildings would be to keep them as places of worship, but for different religions. Many reports suggest that the Muslim population is growing rapidly in the United States, and there have been a few plans to convert churches into mosques in Buffalo. A relatively recent example is the proposed conversion of St. Ann’s to Broadway and Emslie Street.

And while the churches themselves haven’t officially been put on the market yet, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo recently put some of its properties on the market with Hanna Commercial Real Estate, including the Catholic Center itself on Main Street, Christ the King. Seminary in East Aurora, the Newman Center and Buffalo State College and most recently at the St. Jude Center at 760 Ellicott St., near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.