Boutique hotel part of plan to resurrect historic South Wedge church
An historic but vacant church in Rochester’s South Wedge could find new life as a banquet hall and wedding venue.
Plans for Calvary St. Andrew’s church and the attached former rectory also call for a boutique hotel.
The towering brick edifice has stood on Averill Avenue for 150 years. During that time, it has been a place of worship for Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations that played a key role in the resurgence of the South Wedge. And in recent years, it’s served as a performance venue and gathering place for neighbors.
“When you walk into this church ... it exudes a different type of feeling, frankly – a really, really Old World feeling,” said developer Patrick Dutton.
Dutton is part of the development team that bought the property a block or so off Mt Hope Avenue, closing on the $349,000 sale in February, records show.
A small, 18-space parking lot extending back to Hickory Street would be added. The west lawn would be reconfigured for outdoor ceremonies. Plans are to turn the old rectory into a 12-room boutique hotel or inn.
“It will feel more like an inn or a bed and breakfast,” Dutton said. “It's not going to be a major chain; it's going to be intimate.”
This is a business model that Dutton sees as having potential elsewhere in a city that is dotted with church spires. Forced to shut down during the pandemic, many churches went online. Those that were unable to do so, struggled. And while church giving reportedly increased nationally, and the faithful are returning, there is concern about how many might remain online or not come back at all.
“The pandemic has changed not only the office environment, but the way people worship,” Dutton said. “And it doesn't bode well for physical structures.”
Churches, in particular, serve as neighborhood anchors but are expensive to maintain.
Calvary “has always been a place where the neighborhood gathers to really address significant issues,” said the Rev. Judy Lee Hay.
She was a longtime pastor at the church and a leader in reviving the South Wedge. When she arrived in the 1970s, the area was in distress, with 120 boarded-up houses. Today it is one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods.
She retired nearly a decade ago but has remained involved with Calvary. The congregation dwindled in recent years, dispersing to other churches. And when COVID hit, the decision was made to close, and sell.
"I think we are going to find some more churches closing, that can't come back,” she said. “They can't come back in the same way. ... You know, two years is a long time. So people kind of moved on.”
Some moved away, while others came to prefer online or chose a different way to worship
“And so I am worried about that,” Hay said, “the future of the church.”
Calvary has been well cared for over the years, Dutton said. And the previous owners took steps to ensure the sanctuary and chapel would be maintained before the sale.
Both still would be available for religious services, Dutton said, as well as concerts and other performances, perhaps even festivals.
Work could begin in early 2023, and wrap up by year’s end. The sanctuary – requiring mostly cosmetic updates like fresh paint and lighting – might be usable next year.
But first Dutton and the team want to talk to neighbors.
At a meeting with neighborhood groups, Dutton fielded questions about parking, uses and details such as landscaping.
“We don't have property in the South Wedge,” Dutton said. “So this is like, you know, we're kind of newcomers.”
This is also their first hotel project. And first church project. Dutton, his cousin Luke and uncle Gary are better known for turning around old commercial buildings downtown.
“But now ... what do we do with this church? And what do we do with other churches in our neighborhoods?” Dutton said. “And the burden is real, because the history of this place is incredible. The neighborhood is incredible. We want to honor this facility, we want to honor the neighbors that ... live there today, that are coming tomorrow.
“We want to make sure we don't screw it up."