The former St. Mary Carmelite Church property at 101 N. Ottawa St. in downtown Joliet is in immediate peril – it’s scheduled to go to auction on October 23rd, less than a month from now. Although developer Scott Henry of Celadon Holdings, Northbrook, IL, and his Joliet NFP agency partner, Better Tomorrows, have been trying to turn this property into senior housing that would preserve this historic building and Route 66 landmark in Joliet, a number of factors have forced the sale of the property – and not all of the factors or the motivation behind them are clear, at this point. St. Mary Carmelite needs an angel investor or rescuer to act quickly if this priceless historic building is to be saved from the auction block. Time to act.
St. Mary Carmelite is landmark worthy: it is the second oldest surviving church building in Joliet. designed by the same architect who designed Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, Patrick C. Keeley, and completed in 1882. Henry and Celadon had applied for local and state landmark status and had submitted a request for preliminary determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. The church was closed in 1991, and the attached priory, Fiat House, closed in 2009.
The appraised value of the St. Mary Carmelite property, which includes the priory next door, is $1.45 miIlion, BUT the minimum bid that will be allowed is only $278,000 or about one-fifth (19 percent) of the appraised value – a steal by any definition. The Diocese of Joliet would never have taken so low a bid while the church stood empty for 20 years, yet now that the property has been forced into auction, some new party stands to profit immensely by the fact that the renovation project has been stymied by a local critic’s lawsuit. Inland Auctions is holding the auction at its campus in Oak Brook at 2901 Butterfield Road, but the on-site inspection dates (at the church property) are Tuesday, Oct 8 from noon to 2pm and Thursday, Oct. 17 from 2pm to 4pm. The website page where you can download the PDF-based information on this is at:
The biggest opponent to the project from virtually the second that preservationists led by Henry got involved is the attorney whose offices are next door to the church: Richard Kavanagh of Kavanagh Grumley & Gorbold. The firm’s offices are directly south of the church’s priory. Kavanagh is a conservative, the former head of the Republican Party in Will County, a veteran, and someone who was never interested in the property while it stood empty for two decades before Henry and Celadon Holdings became interested in acquiring the property from the Diocese of Joliet. If Kavanagh wanted to develop the property, he had an opportunity that he ignored for nearly two decades. Now he’s concerned? The real question is: what’s his angle? Who profits from stopping preservation efforts? Does Kavanagh or one of his partners stand to gain? Or does he just dislike having his office next door to a senior citizens’ development? The most recent local articles about the lawsuit and the attempts to save the church for historic preservation can be found here, here and here.
Kavanagh certainly objected to any local or state tax credits being given to the project, and he sued the city in February in part over the fact that the city approved the St. Mary Carmelite project suing a different standard of housing density for that project than it did for a rejected plan to create family housing for veterans on the former Silver Cross Hospital site on the east side of Joliet. The city explained that density standards are different for senior housing than for family housing, particularly when preserving historic buildings is involved, as was the case previously with the adaptive reuse of another historic building just a few blocks north of St. Mary Carmelite, the former Joliet YMCA building (now Senior Suites of Joliet), but that didn’t satisfy Kavanagh.
First, Kavanagh complained when Henry and Celadon first acquired the former church and priory that the property was better suited to commercial development, despite the fact that nobody had offered to develop it commercially in two decades. Then Kavanagh complained about the tax credits and the city approvals, then when that failed to halt the project, he claimed that Henry’s cost estimates were way too high compared to new construction. Now he’s using other reasoning in his lawsuit, the documents for which we haven’t been able to read yet.
It seems that Kavanagh simply wants the preservation project to fail, no matter what. Why??? What’s the real reason? Do he or his friends plan to buy the property cheap once it goes up for auction? Or is he just a jerk who doesn’t want a seniors’ housing complex next door?
We also don’t know why Henry and Celadon failed to gain access to necessary federal tax credits that would have drawn investment funds for the project. Henry hasn’t responded to e-mails over the last month, nor to voicemail messages and counldn’t be reached for comment. It may require an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the relevant federal agency in order to learn the reason(s) for the denial of the tax credit. One thing we’d like to know is whether the protest/lawsuit by Kavanagh was a factor in the denial of the tax credit. Meanwhile, the special use zoning permit granted to Celadon by the city of Joliet for the project has expired, and the city may not be able to renew it because of the lawsuit. Again, we have to ask: who profits from stopping this preservation project?
The church is unique in one respect, beyond its historical and architectural value: high above the sanctuary it has a three-panel stained-glass skylight, a feature rarely found in churches of this type and age. And the skylight is fully intact and beautiful.
Any information or help that you can offer on this matter or any publicity you can give it would be greatly appreciated. We’ll pass on more news as we get it. Meanwhile, you can lodge your protests with the city officials involved:
Until next time (when we hope to have better news),
Marie, Joe and Keith