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With St. Boniface's Future in Flux, Court Case Continued to Aug. 31

By Alisa Hauser | July 28, 2016 2:39pm
 St. Boniface Church at 1358 W. Chestnut St.
St. Boniface Church at 1358 W. Chestnut St.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

NOBLE SQUARE — Preservationists and a developer who offered to buy St. Boniface Church for $2.2 million this week say they are not giving up hope that the century-old structure will stay standing, even as its owners make their case it is a dangerous building that needs to be torn down.

Michael Skoulsky, owner of Stas Development, offered to buy the 112-year-old church for $2.2 million on Tuesday and wants to create 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 at 1358 W. Chestnut St.

The current owners of the church say they face liability issues if it is left standing.

Says Skoulsky: "We are fighting against the clock to secure it and move forward with our deal and eliminate all these other uncertainties."

A demolition permit was issued by the Building Department last week but then a hold was put on it around the same time a developer bought the debt owed on the structure. On Wednesday, city officials continued the case to Aug. 31.

Crews from North Riverside-based wreckers Crunch Inc. were poised to begin demolition Monday as developer Brian Duggan, an executive with Guardian Capital, bought $1.4 million worth of debt that the building's owner, Phil Moeller, owes to Forest Park Bank.

Moeller had wanted to build a senior apartment complex on the cleared site. But earlier this year, city officials told Moeller that he must either repair the dilapidated church, which has been vacant since 1990, or demolish it.

On Thursday, Moeller said that he, Duggan and the city have concerns with Skoulsky's offer to buy the church because the contract "included contingencies and terms that would have kept the liability issue open for an undetermined amount of time."

"Trespassers being injured at the property and/or falling fragments injuring pedestrians are our major concern," Moeller told DNAinfo in an email.

He said he is dealing with claims from owners of cars that were damaged during a recent wind storm.

"We are around the corner from another Chicago winter and we don’t believe the structure can survive without significant deterioration," Moeller said, potentially opening the owners to more liability issues.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said he is concerned that the church could still be demolished and would like a court-ordered hold on the demolition in addition to the Buildings Department freeze.

"So many issues appear to be unresolved and clouded by recent actions," he said, including Duggan's purchase of the debt. Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.

Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, offered some assurance to preservationists.

"The city continues to work with the owner, financial interests and potential developers on a viable plan that re-uses the church building," Strazzabosco said. "Demolition will not be occurring during this ongoing negotiation period." 

A source close to the project said that Duggan views the church primarily as a land opportunity.

Elsewhere in the area, Duggan's Guardian Capital is building 50 townhomes in Logan Square and eight single-family homes in the 2000 block of West Race Street in West Town.

Jeff Osic of the Crunch wrecking company estimated Thursday that it would take 30 days to demolish the church.

"It's on a hold pattern. We've been onsite, it's standard protocol [to put up fencing]. All we are doing is waiting... I can't comment on whether we will be proceeding at this point," Osic said.