CVS cancels plan to buy former St. Francis church property in North Adams


NORTH ADAMS -- For the time being, it looks like all the steeples in Steeple City will remain standing tall.

CVS company officials have indicated that they are no longer interested in buying the iconic former St. Francis of Assisi property.

After word spread last year that CVS officials were evaluating the St. Francis site for a new pharmacy, community members began circulating a petition protesting the possible demolition of the church and trying to make CVS executives aware of the role the St. Francis building and steeple play in the economy and culture of North Adams.

Friday, one of the petitioners, Joseph Smith, received an email reply from Michael DeAngelis, the CVS director of public relations. In the email, DeAngelis said, "CVS will not be pursuing a store location at the site of this church."

The word "not" was underlined in the email.

Late Friday, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright confirmed what was said in the email.

He said he spoke with an executive at CVS earlier Friday who confirmed that CVS is no longer interested in locating a store at the St. Francis site. Alcombright declined to identify the executive, but said he is "pretty high up on the food chain."

"I'm really pleased with this," Alcombright said. He added that the petition campaign and community outcry seemed to make a difference in helping CVS understand the issue.

In fact, Alcombright noted, a meeting is set Wednesday between the mayor and CVS representatives to discuss possible alternative sites.

Now that the St. Francis property is off the table, he said, the community can concentrate on coming up with a plan that will preserve the church and its steeple.

Alcombright pledged to "become part of the solution" and to put more focus and energy in seeking connections and resources that will help conceive of and execute a workable plan for adaptive reuse of the former church.

He noted that St. Elizabeth Parish is responsible for paying the property tax and maintenance at St. Francis, which is a significant financial burden on the church community.

"I've got to try to get this off the parishioners' backs and find a solution," Alcombright said.

He noted that he is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth.

Alcombright said there needs to be a plan for acquisition of the property, a plan for the ongoing reuse of the church and grounds, and enough capital to make it happen through investors, grant funding or a combination of a number of financial solutions.

Smith, the man who received word Friday from DeAngelis, said he was relieved.

"I didn't want to see the church taken down," he said.

The online petition to protest the possible demolition of the former church at the corner of Eagle and Union streets had been nearing 2,000 signatures after reports surfaced that CVS Pharmacies was seeking to buy the property, which is now located next to Big Y.

St. Francis has been on the market since 2009, when the congregations of St. Francis and St. Anthony merged to become St. Elizabeth. Once vacant, the1863 structure landed back on the tax rolls, with the congregation on the hook for the annual property tax bills.

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