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Shuttered St. Ann’s is subject of Council ire

As parts of Buffalo’s East Side show early signs of rebounding, city lawmakers are challenging the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to join the effort rather than allow an iconic church to remain shuttered and decay further.

The immediate issue with St. Ann’s Church, on Broadway at Emslie Street, is that the diocese needs to do whatever repairs are necessary to the building so the fence erected around the building five years ago can be removed, two Common Council members said.

“People are walking in the street,” Council President Darius G. Pridgen said. “They need to remove the fence, and that building needs to be made safe if it indeed is not safe.

“The building needs to be taken care of. It’s a gem in our community. To just leave it sitting, I know what’s going to happen: The roof will start leaking. Things will be stolen.”

Council Member David A. Franczyk, of the Fillmore District, echoed Pridgen’s comments. He added that the diocese should repair and reopen the majestic church for city residents and suburbanites who would welcome a chance to return there for Mass and other events.

“Be on the right side of history – be enlightened,” said Franczyk said, as if addressing the diocese. “Look at what’s happening. Larkinville is not far away. There was a big story in the newspaper (about Bangladeshi immigrants moving into the community). Property values are going up. We are on the cusp of a metamorphosis and positive change.”

The church, Franczyk noted, is less than a half-mile from neighborhoods experiencing the rebirth from the Bangladeshi influx.

“They need to do the right thing,” Franczyk said of the diocese. “Be a part of the renaissance.”

The diocese issued a response on the issue Wednesday through spokesman Kevin A. Keenan.

“The safety fencing outside the church was installed at the request of the city. We have no intention of moving it,” Keenan said, adding that the church will not be reopened.

“As we have said in the past, the church is structurally compromised and neither SS. Columba-Brigid Parish, which now owns the property, nor the diocese, have the financial ability to spend $12 million to stabilize the church,” he said.

The St. Ann Parish merged with SS. Columba-Brigid Parish in 2007 because of sharp population declines in the neighborhood, making St. Ann’s too small to be sustainable, Keenan said.

The church was closed in April 2012 because of its deteriorating condition. After repair costs were estimated at $8 million to $12 million, the diocese announced in August 2013 that the Neo-Gothic structure would be torn down. That plan, however, was scrapped after St. Ann supporters appealed to the City of Buffalo as well as the Vatican to save the building. After the city bestowed landmark status on the church, built in 1886, Bishop Richard J. Malone said the church would be put on the market. But in February 2014 the Vatican issued a ruling forbidding the church from being demolished or used for non-religious purposes. The diocese is appealing that ruling.

The issue was resurrected earlier this week when an anonymous letter was sent to the Common Council about the fence erected in front of St. Ann’s. A half-decade ago the diocese lobbied for the fence, saying the church towers were crumbling, according to the letter, which states: “This hasn’t happened in five years and will not happen anytime soon.”

The letter also points out the fence is so close to the curb in spots that pedestrians are being forced to walk on the street – on Broadway as well as Emslie.

“In the interest of protecting the public, they have accomplished just the opposite by putting the fence right out to the curb,” the letter states. “With no snow, people have to walk in the street, With snow it requires a walk somewhere into the middle of the street.”

By policy, the Council does not address unsigned letters, but Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, said the Council has been, and continues to be, concerned about St. Ann’s.

“The Council hasn’t forgotten about this,” Pridgen said.

Pridgen and Franczyk said it is important that the church not be torn down.

“There are vacant lots up and down Broadway,” Franczyk said. “We don’t need another vacant lot.”

“There needs to be enlightenment here, awareness of the good things going on in the community,” Franczyk added.

“There is a belief in that community,” he said. “The thinking that we can let things rot, and close things, that this is a bad area – that was backward thinking before and 100 times more backward today.”