Facebook Twitter

Church gets a reprieve

Preservation group has till April 19 to come up with $1.2M

SHARE Church gets a reprieve
The church is the only example of 20th-century Spanish Mission-style architecture in Provo.

The church is the only example of 20th-century Spanish Mission-style architecture in Provo.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Call it a miracle of St. Francis, call it good government, call it a win-win ... call it whatever you like, but it appears the old Catholic church building on Provo's 500 West Street will escape the wrecking ball.

Somehow, late Tuesday night in the middle of the Provo City Council meeting, four factions negotiated a deal that will give a preservation group 15 more days to raise $1.2 million to buy and save the building or remove all obstacles to tearing it down.

The City Council unanimously agreed to wait until 5 p.m. on April 19 to remove the building from the city's landmarks register.

The developer who offered the church $1.2 million for the land agreed to step aside if the preservation group delivers that amount, plus $50,000 for work done by the developer, before the deadline.

The chairman of the Historic Provo Preservation Foundation, BYU music professor Douglas Bush, said the group would have the money in time.

Bush also agreed along with the chairman of the Provo Landmarks Commission to influence anyone considering a lawsuit to stop demolition of the building to forgo that option because of the agreement.

An increasingly rancorous meeting evolved into a real estate negotiation that several area Catholics said made them uncomfortable before it took a sudden turn.

Adam Ford, an attorney representing the developer, made a promise to the council that he said was legally binding: If the foundation delivered $1.25 million in two weeks, the developer would accept it and step aside.

Mayor Lewis Billings jumped on the offer and suggested a deal like the one that saved the former BYU Academy Square a decade ago.

If the developer would stand by the offer, and the preservationists agreed not to sue if they failed to deliver on their promises, the sides would agree to a 16-day deadline.

"If they come up with the money, we're good," Ford said. "If not, they've committed to no lawsuits."

Council Chairman George Stewart called a 10-minute recess and the sides hammered out the details.

The St. Francis of Assisi Parish has tried for 10 years to sell the building. It left the site seven years ago to worship in a gymnasium the parish built in Orem next to the plot where it planned to build a new church — if it ever sold the old building in Provo.

Without the parish's permission, the building was placed on the city's landmarks register in 1996, as was an off-campus BYU building.

The Council removed the BYU building in 2002, and the Catholics said they just wanted equal treatment.

"We just want you to treat us the same way you treated BYU," said Julie Boerio-Goates, a parishioner and a BYU chemistry professor. "As a member of the minority, that's a really important feeling to have."

Offers have come and gone, but the parish took new hope when a developer offered $1.2 million if the parish could get the City Council to take the building off the city's landmarks register.

The Provo Landmarks Commission balked, and the City Council voted in February to give the foundation two months to come up with an offer the Catholic Church would accept.

"We'll accept the offer as it stands now," said the Rev. Michael Sciumbato, the parish pastor. "We'll see what happens on April 19. I hope that's a historic day for the Catholic Church in Utah Valley."

That skepticism was born in part by an offer the foundation made in May that fell apart, and then miscommunication on counteroffers.

The biggest miscommunication of all happened Monday night. Bush drove to Salt Lake City with an envelope that contained a letter about a $1.2 million offer, a non-refundable check for $50,000 and a contract.

But Bush didn't realize he hadn't placed the contract in the envelope, and none of the church leaders were at the Salt Lake Diocese to hear his offer verbally.

"I was stunned," Bush said of learning of the blunder. "I really thought I'd included the materials. I'm very grateful for the result we reached.

"This is a helpful thing for those people who have pledged funds because it provides a timetable. It also helps those who intended to help. It's imperative they contact us immediately."

He said the deal "absolutely" would get done.

Bush delivered the contract to church representatives in the lobby of the city center just before Tuesday's meeting, and reactions by some members of the two groups grew heated.

An attorney representing the diocese said the council agreed to remove the building from the register if no offer was made in time, and he argued that no offer had been made.

Then Ford and Billings stepped in and Bush and Landmarks Commission Chair Stephen Hales stepped up.

After the deal was reached, all sides hailed the decision with applause in the council chambers.

The church building will be automatically removed from the register if the deal isn't consummated by the deadline.

"Now we go to work," Bush said.

The first part of the building was built in 1923 and the rest in 1936. The building is the only example of 20th-century Spanish Mission-style architecture in Provo.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com