Reusing Greater St Matthew Baptist Church

Developer Ben Weintraub, of Vintage Residential Management, recently purchased the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, at Fitzwater and Grays Ferry Ave, with a residential conversion in mind. Flying Kite reports Weintraub purchased the complex hoping to convert the sanctuary into 29 apartments, eight units in the former rectory, and construct a rooftop patio. And maybe the iconic bell tower – one of my favorite fixtures of the Southwest Center City skyline – could become accessible for residents.

It’s an ambitious project that represents a real bright spot for the reuse of religious buildings in our city. And frankly, we could use a few more of these conversions.

Virtually every Philadelphia neighborhood has vacant and underused religious properties; some are unceremoniously demolished, while others simply languish waiting for new lives. Philadelphia developers are increasingly interested repurposing religious buildings, although many churches that are up for sale are not aggressively marketed with an eye toward new uses. Look no further than the Church of the Assumption to see that failure in action. There are more than a dozen churches for sale that I can think of, but surely there are more. Opportunity abounds and creativity will be rewarded.

Greater St. Matthew Baptist purchased the church, built as St. Anthony of Padua Church in the 1880s, from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia 11 years ago for $325,000. Last year as parking problems for congregants drove down attendance, Greater St. Matthew put the church on the market for a cool $2.5 million. Several developers were interested in the property, with Weintraub’s bid winning out. For its part Greater St. Matthew Baptist has found a new home in Tioga-Nicetown inside the former home of Triumph Baptist Church.

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