Recently, it was announced that St. Mary had purchased 40 E. Burlington St., the vacant 4,600-square-foot former location of PNC Bank, to serve as the future site for parish offices.
While the planned addition to St. Mary has been welcomed by pastoral staff, parishioners, and the community as a whole, this purchase is a misguided step for both the school and the village.
The 40 E. Burlington St. location not only occupies a core retail space within Riverside’s central business district, but it also sits beside two, additional unoccupied commercial structures: 28 and 30 E. Burlington.
Together, the three properties comprise 55,000 square feet of land ripe for a new, transformative development in the heart of downtown Riverside. Relocating the offices in the middle of the business district, however, virtually eliminates the potential for worthwhile, future projects.
With the success of the Village Center development as both a residential and commercial space, a similar undertaking could have the potential to reenergize the village’s longstanding goal of making the downtown area more appealing to businesses and more frequented by outsider foot traffic.
Moreover, the former PNC Bank parcels generated over $55,000 in property tax revenue in 2017 with $39,000 going to local schools and an additional $11,000 to village services. With St. Mary’s purchase (being a religious institution), this tax burden would be shouldered by all other taxpayers in Riverside – residential and commercial.
Last year, the Riverside Village Board exempted the parish from having to meet the required number of parking spaces to accompany its planned addition, given officials’ assertions that the existing 134 spots were more than sufficient for St. Mary.
But just last week, Rev. Thomas May cited the additional 28 parking spaces at the 40 E. Burlington St. property as one justification for pursuing the purchase, seemingly in contradiction to earlier reasoning and needs.
The concerns with the parish’s acquisition of this property goes beyond simple dollars and cents. To move the parish offices to an off-site location does away with the greater “campus-like” feel of the main school building, parish center, church, “Mary Park” and rectory as a single unit.
With this move, an entire segment of the school and parish community may be cut off from the day-to-day happenings at 97 Herrick Road.
Yes, the expansion and renovation of St. Mary Parish should be welcomed, and it is long overdue that the rectory be reconverted into a residences-only space for parish officials. But these plans should not come at the expense of the entire village’s economic and commercial progress.
These plans should not cut off a potentially transformative development in the downtown area before it could even materialize. Riverside residents and parishioners shouldn’t have to choose between parish expansion and the village’s economic well-being.
Parish officials should reconsider this short-sighted move to the 40 E. Burlington St. location — it’s bad for the St. Mary community and bad for the village.
Dylan Gresik is a Riverside resident.