News Briefing

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Potential buyer of church urges its preservation

A possible buyer of a historic church owned by an AIDS-services agency urged a city review panel this week to prevent its demolition.

Timothy Duffield, board member of The Clay Studio, told the city’s Board of License and Inspection Review that his group would like to buy the Church of the Assumption — but it needs three months to do a feasibility study.

He urged the review board to help facilitate the exploratory process by blocking the demolition.

Siloam Ministries acquired the vacant church five years ago, when purchasing several buildings from the Archdiocese in a package deal.

The church is located at 1133 Spring Garden St.

In a nearby building, Siloam offers alternate therapies to low-income people with HIV/AIDS, including Reiki massage, stress-reduction training and nutritional counseling.

Last September, the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted to allow the demolition, on the basis that it would be a financial hardship for Siloam if it were required to maintain the dilapidated structure.

However, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association wants the review board to reverse that decision, citing the church’s historic ties to two saints, and its value as a tourist attraction.

The Clay Studio is a nonprofit ceramic arts organization currently renting space in Old City, but searching for a permanent location, Duffield testified.

He said the group is considering the rehab effort — which he said would cost up to $9.7 million — provided that the church’s edifice is preserved.

“We need to do a study to get into a position to make an offer,” Duffield testified March 28. “Within three months, we’ll know whether it’s worth going any further.”

Supporters of Siloam countered that additional delays could be the death knell for the agency, noting that the church is in danger of collapse.

But Samuel Y. Harris, an architect and engineer, testified that he made an outdoor visual inspection of the church recently, and it doesn’t appear to be in imminent danger of collapse.

Harris said it would cost about $150,000 to stabilize the structure. “There are remarkable, economical things we can do to stabilize it,” he testified. “They’re crude but effective.”

He also said state funding may be available to mothball it.

Review-board members said they’ll render a decision within the next several weeks.

After the hearing, Andrew R. Palewski, an architectural preservationist who nominated the church for the city’s Register of Historic Places, expressed optimism that the demolition will be blocked.

“There are other viable options, which will still make money for Siloam,” Palewski told PGN.

But Sr. Catherine Maguire, Siloam’s interim director, said she hopes the board approves the demolition. “We need to get this [demolition issue] resolved so we can move forward,” she said.

Siloam continues to provide services through volunteers, but its meager funds are being drained by the church, Maguire said.

— Tim Cwiek

Clean up the ’hood

The Philadelphia Streets Department will stage its fourth annual Philly Spring Cleanup this weekend at locations around the city, including the Washington Square West area.

Volunteers will work from 9 a.m. until about noon April 2 to beautify the area between Broad and 10th streets and Spruce and Bainbridge streets.

Participants must pre-register by visiting www.philadelphiastreets.com/philly-spring-cleanup.aspx and searching for Washington Square West under the Center City tab.

Charity crowning

The Liberty City Drag Kings & Burlesque will host its annual Mr. Philly Drag King Competition next week, with proceeds benefiting the upcoming Dyke March.

The competition will be held from 7:30-10 p.m. April 9 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St., with admission on a sliding scale from $5-$10.

Guests must be 18 to enter and 21 to drink. Beer and pretzels will be served.

The show will begin at 8 p.m.

For more information, email [email protected].

— Jen Colletta