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Music School Confident Of St. Boniface Takeover, Despite Demo Permit

By Alex Nitkin | July 24, 2016 1:00pm | Updated on July 24, 2016 5:01pm
 The back of St. Boniface Church.
The back of St. Boniface Church.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

NOBLE SQUARE — The Chicago Academy of Music is "98 percent of the way" to finalizing a takeover of St. Boniface Church that would keep the century-old building standing, the school's director said Sunday.

Even though a demolition permit was issued Friday for the vacant church at 1358 W. Chestnut St., city officials and a new developer are on board with a plan to restore it, according to the academy's executive director, Michael Scott Carter.

"The city is still going through the motions because nothing is official yet, but I think we've come to an arrangement," Carter said. "I do not believe it will be demolished."

Earlier this year, city officials told the church's owner, Phil Moeller, that he must either repair the dilapidated church or demolish it.

In the months since then, Carter worked with Preservation Chicago director Ward Miller to cobble together a plan for the music school to restore and re-purpose the church, he said.

They approached Michael Skoulsky, the president of Stas Development, to see if he was interested in overseeing the project. Living three blocks away, Skoulsky said Sunday, he was eager to get involved.

"I've been walking my dog past [the church] every day now for three years, just wishing I could get my hands on it and refurbish it," Skoulsky said.

The developer got his wish, and since early June, he's worked double-time to sketch out a vision for the property's future, he said.

Skoulsky foresees a "satellite campus" for the Chicago Academy of Music, including classrooms, student apartments and a 300-seat, two-story amphitheater.

In addition, 24 new condo units will be built on an empty plot of land just east of the church, he added.

The bank collecting the property's mortgage payments is on board with the proposal, Skoulsky said, and he plans to place a deposit on the property Monday.

Officials from the from the city's Department of Planning and Development have "moved remarkably quickly" to keep up with the process, Carter added.

"We've essentially taken something that usually takes a year, and done it in less than 30 days," Carter said of the effort to save the church. "And we haven't run into any trouble at all. It's really amazing."

Designed by architect Henry Schlacks, the Romanesque-style church has been standing since 1902. It closed in 1990, and has been unoccupied since.

Restoring the historic church instead of scrapping and replacing it will be a win-win for the property owner and the surrounding community, Carter said.

"This way, the developers aren't going to have to spend years trying to wrangle some new development and build it there," he said. "This is a quicker and easier way to get through that process. In the meantime they're donating to the civic good, and everyone wins." 

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