Fredericton’s Christ Church Cathedral, a National Historic Site of Canada, may soon need millions of dollars’ worth of repairs, according to Fredericton Bishop David Edwards. Photo: Gisele McKnight
Last November, Bishop David Edwards presented a “vision” for Christ Church Cathedral and several nearby church properties to the congregation of the cathedral. Church officials are reported to have met with Fredericton city staff earlier that month to discuss the plan and ensure it fit the city’s vision for the area.
The proposal, available online, includes the sale of two church properties—Cathedral Memorial Hall, which contains offices and rooms used for meetings and other functions; and Odell House, the former deanery of the cathedral. It envisages the construction of a new building encompassing the existing Bishop’s Court (the former residence of the bishop) and the synod office building next door. Plans for the building include institutional and possibly residential space—condominiums or rental units—providing income to both the diocese and the cathedral.
Driving the possible changes is the high cost of maintaining the five properties currently held by the diocese and cathedral. The cathedral itself, a National Historic Site of Canada that Edwards calls the architectural “jewel in the crown” of downtown Fredericton, is nearly 170 years old. It was restored in the 1990s, but “many of its parts cry out for another multi-million dollar restoration project,” the proposal says.
Cathedral Memorial Hall is unused most of the time, but also needs “extensive and expensive renovations.” The synod office, too, needs renovations, according to the proposal.
These properties are already costing the diocese and cathedral money. In recent years, the document says, the cathedral has had to spend an average of $200,000 per year on maintenance and operations costs for the cathedral, Odell House and Cathedral Memorial Hall—not including insurance. Maintaining Bishop’s Court and the diocesan office—costs about $36,000 per year.
The total value of the properties—at least, according to assessments by the provincial government, which the proposal document quotes—is $2.6 million. A private appraiser estimated their value on the open market at about $1.8 million, but Edwards says this appraisal, carried out in 2013, is no longer accurate.
The vision for the church properties, according to the proposal, comes from discussions between Edwards and a small group of volunteers. It is based upon a number of principles, among them that “there are businesses that are better equipped than the church to manage properties, and if we were to partner with them it would free up church leaders and congregations for the more important work of the church—God’s work.”
Another principle, according to the document, is that church property should be sold only if it will serve the church over the long term—not merely to help it through a cash crunch. “Experience has shown that in most cases the cash from a sale ends up being a ‘quick fix’ to supplement a shortage of regular income, and is used to help pay the bills for ‘a few more years.’ Very quickly, money and property are both gone,” the proposal states.
The document imagines the cathedral and other church buildings as they might exist in 2022. Restoration work is underway at the cathedral, and its interior has already been refurbished to better suit outreach programs and use by community groups. Cathedral Memorial Hall and Odell House have both been sold. Across the street from the cathedral, engulfing the now-refurbished Bishop’s Court and synod office, is the new building, “a multi-story contemporary structure that has been designed by a talented and experienced architect,” that will include “institutional space, a large number of condominiums/rent-producing units above, diocesan and Cathedral offices in a shared space,” and more.
In this vision, the new building is managed by a private company under a 40-year lease agreement, ensuring “a healthy income stream for both the diocese and the Cathedral,” enough to offset the operational costs on their existing property.
The document, however, specifies that the proposal is not a concrete plan, but rather a “possible, even hoped-for, future,” and in an email to the Anglican Journal, Edwards said it’s too early to comment on what might happen to the properties, or how much income the new building might be expected to generate.
“Currently there is no intention to sell anything. We have a major public consultation piece to do,” he said. It will be at least six months, Edwards added, before the cathedral and diocese have a concrete plan.
The first step in this process, according to the document, is for the bishop to gauge support for the idea with cathedral and diocese leaders. If they support it, the bishop will appoint, in early 2017, a committee charged with moving the proposal forward, including coming up with a more detailed plan. The expectation, the document says, is that a decision will be made on the committee’s plan this November at the latest.
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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