New developer steps in to transform former church property

·3 min read

SAINT JOHN • Up to 36 new housing units could be added to Saint John's south end after a community organization answered the call for a new developer for a historic church property.

Kaleidoscope Social Impact has purchased the Church of St. John the Baptist property on Broad Street from the Alston family, who had planned to turn the former church into an indoor rock-climbing gym. In addition to building housing – a mixture of market rate and affordable housing units – the church property will also provide room for artists' studios, as well as space for Kaleidoscope to expand its services.

Formerly known as the Saint John Community Loan Fund, Kaleidoscope is involved in housing projects, as well as career training and providing social financing for a variety of enterprises. It currently operates out of the Saint John Enterprise Hub on Prince Edward Street.

Kaleidoscope has purchased both the church with the attached vestry behind it, as well as the rectory next door, in part to create a satellite location.

"By getting both the properties, we had the opportunities to do what we really wanted to do with the enterprising and the residential component," said Seth Asimakos, general manager and co-founder of Kaleidoscope Social Impact.

"We just didn't want to let this opportunity go with the property," he added. "It really fit what we were trying to accomplish."

While the previous owners of the property had already done some work on the site, the project will still require renovations to get the ball rolling.

"It's probably an eight or nine-month renovation for sure," Asimakos said.

In the first three to four months, Kaleidoscope will start offering a few services out of the church property, to later be followed by construction work to create offices and creative studio spaces. The final part of the development project will see a 30-to-36-unit apartment building on the rear side of the property, forming an L-shape with the rectory.

Construction of the new housing is expected to begin in 2024.

"We are already speaking with a couple of organizations that have been interested in doing something with us for a while," Asimakos said.

The church's vestry will be converted into creative spaces, entrepreneurial areas and artist studios. After this, a couple of floors of office spaces and creative studio spaces will be built inside the cathedral. That work is expected to finish around late 2023.

"The only thing that we may demolish is a fairly insignificant garage that's at the back of the rectory," he said.

Asimakos acquired the Broad Street property even before it went on the market after hearing it would become available shortly. Kaleidoscope has currently two other projects in the works around the city, and recognizing that it takes time to go from a vision to breaking ground to completion, Asimakos said that he did not want to miss this deal.

"This is basically lining up ourselves for future developments," he said.

Previous property owner David Alston had hoped to turn the former church property into Climb 1884, an indoor rock-climbing gym that promised to be the biggest in the province. But nearly a year after purchasing the property, Alston announced he and his wife were putting the property back on the market, due to prohibitively expensive difficulties in building the rock-climbing surfaces and equipment.

Alston said he's happy the space is going back into community use one way or the other, and he figures Asimakos is likely to face fewer difficulties in carrying out the new renovations since both of them share a common architect who is now in charge of designing the new model.

"We'd thought that we were gonna write the next chapter for the church, but it didn't turn out, but to me this is a great next chapter," he said.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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