The 202-foot-high steeple at St. Mary Carmelite Church has been a towering feature of the downtown skyline since the 1880s, but tiles are falling from it and the church below has been closed for about three decades.
A second private owner is trying to sell the church.
The Joliet Historic Preservation Commission wants to landmark it.
And the lawyers next door would like to see it torn down.
“If you look up at the roof, you’ll see some of the tiles are missing,” attorney Richard Kavanagh said. “Those tiles are falling off. Someday, one of those tiles is going to hit someone.”
Not too long ago, a tile falling from the steeple landed outside the offices of Kavanagh, Grumley & Gorbold, and it wasn’t the first time it happened.
But the church at 113 N. Ottawa St. is “generally” in stable condition, according to a building assessment that notes the missing roof tiles along with “isolated broken windows that may present falling hazards” and an “unsafe” front entrance.
The assessment done by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates recommends repairs ranging in cost between
$1.5 million and $1.8 million.
Still, according to the report, St. Mary Carmelite is “generally in serviceable condition” and “significant to the history and architectural heritage of Joliet.”
St. Mary Carmelite was designed by Patrick Charles Keely, a prolific architect whose church designs include Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
It was built between 1877 and 1882 entirely of Joliet limestone and, according to a staff report, “is an excellent example of Gothic Revival style with its strong vertical orientation.”
The building is “relatively unique at this point” for Joliet, Quinn Adamowski, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said during a public hearing held Wednesday regarding landmark status for the church.
This is not the first time the commission has considered the future of St. Mary Carmelite Church.
“A lot of the buildings in the city over time have been demolished that could have been used for adaptive re-use,” Adamowski said. “I think that’s why this building keeps coming up in discussion.”
However, faced with a building owner who objects to landmark status, the commission continued the public hearing until its next meeting
“The building is great. That’s why I bought it,” owner Michael Feldman told the commission.
But Feldman, the second owner of the church since it was sold for a token price by the Diocese of Joliet in 2012, said he has been unable to redevelop the property and it’s time to “move on.”
Landmark status, he said, would hurt his ability to sell.
“We had three potential buyers, and once this [landmark] process started and became more formal, they dropped out,” Feldman said. “They don’t want anything to do with the building for development if it has landmark status.”
Feldman said landmark status could make it impossible to modernize the building, but acknowledged knowing little about tax incentives available for landmark buildings.
The hearing was continued until the commission’s next meeting so city staff could compile a report on tax breaks that could encourage redevelopment of the church if it is landmarked and whether any incentives apply to local landmarks.
In the meantime, Kavanagh said his law firm is against landmarking the church.
“We don’t know where the money is going to come from to, quote, preserve it,” he said.