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Developer bids on 10 church properties

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bill Zlatos
Friday, October 13, 2006

The Follieri Group, a Manhattan-based developer, bid on 10 church properties in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, in what could be its biggest sale in decades, diocesan officials announced Thursday.
“We have received sales agreements on 10 church properties,” said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. “Those parishes are being consulted.”

Lengwin declined to divulge the locations of the properties, vacancy status, or the amount of the offer.

“We could be talking about churches,” he said. “We could be talking about convents. We could be talking about schools.”

If the deal goes through, Lengwin said, it would be the largest purchase in the diocese by a single buyer of church property during his 25 years. He said he does not know how many vacant buildings are in the 214 parishes in Allegheny, Washington, Greene, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties.

“There is no timetable,” he said. “It’s something we’d like to do as soon as possible.”

Marcy Simon, head of communications for the Follieri Group, said the firm has submitted bids on area properties, although she did not identify which.

“We’ve not closed on any properties, we have not owned any properties yet,” she said last night.

She said the company was built on the teachings and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, and in developing properties, the company’s model is “to always give back to the communities we acquire properties in” and “look to the local resources that are available in the community to work on the development projects.”

Lengwin previously said Follieri was interested in buying St. Nicholas Church on Route 28 in the North Side. He would not say yesterday whether it is among the 10 properties.

Follieri’s earlier interest in St. Nicholas angered the Croatian American Cultural and Economic Alliance, which thought it was close to a $250,000 deal with the diocese for the church, rectory, garages, a parking lot and contents. The alliance planned to spend more than $1 million to convert the church — home to the first Croatian parish in America — into a historical center and shrine.

“I’m certainly disappointed, because we put a lot of work and effort in this,” said Dr. Marion Vujevich, alliance chairman. “We got the short end of the stick.”

Susan Petrick, secretary of the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation, also is disappointed.

“If the diocese’s true intention is to make it into a shrine, they should not consider offers from people who do not have the same intention,” she said. “I doubt that Follieri has any intention of making it into a shrine.”

PennDOT considered razing the 105-year-old church for a $130 million road-widening project, but spared it when the alliance and other groups secured a historic designation from the city.

Drawings by Astorino architects call for developing a park or Croatian village near the church, plans that would fall through if Follieri buys the church, Vujevich said.

But, said Lengwin, “We are always looking at that situation to see how we can resolve it.”

Bill Zlatos can be reached at or (412) 320-7828.

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