LEWISTON — Andrew Knight's mission to find a church to rescue sent him to more than a dozen properties in six states. Then, he glimpsed the former St. Patrick Church at 220 Bates St.
"It's breathtaking," said Knight, a real estate developer from Arlington, Va. "It quite literally took my breath away. When I walked around the property and when I saw the spires and towers, I was just overwhelmed.”
So, he bought it.
He signed a purchase and sale agreement with Maine’s Catholic church and plans to close on the property on March 5. The deal is worth $120,000, Dave Guthro, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said.
Knight plans to get right to work.
"Most of what I'm going to be doing for the next few months is going to be planning and market research, basically figuring out what exactly I want to do with the property,” Knight, 36, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Knight said he wants to create a venue for weddings, receptions and conferences.
He plans to do some light remodeling in the former church. And he plans a heavier job in the next door rectory, where he predicts a large-scale update of the building's systems and fixtures.
"Both buildings are actually, structurally, in very good shape,” Knight said.
Knight, a lawyer who has been working exclusively as a residential real estate developer, said he had been searching for a church building to renovate. He began looking last fall at online sales ads when he saw St. Patrick’s. He had already visited churches in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and elsewhere.
"I looked at over a dozen properties all along the East Coast,” he said. He has no ties to Maine, but he was intrigued by St. Patrick's Neo-Gothic architecture.
It made him take a closer look at the building, which has been empty for more than four years.
The diocese and the city's Prince of Peace Parish decided in 2009 it could no longer afford to keep either St. Joseph’s Church on Main Street or St. Patrick, which overlooks Kennedy Park. Both churches had small congregations and their maintenance was getting expensive.
In October 2009, final Masses were held at both churches.
Central Maine Medical Center purchased St. Joseph’s Church with a plan to raze it for parking. That plan is on hold.
Knight said he was saddened to learn of St. Joseph’s fate. Such grand buildings deserve more, he said.
On Tuesday, he asked the Lewiston Planning Board for a zoning change that would allow him to serve food and alcohol at St. Patrick. The board unanimously voted in favor, sending the zoning change to the City Council, where it will need two hearings.
So far, the move looks good for the city of Lewiston, said Lincoln Jeffers, the city's director of economic and community development.
“The city is excited to have an entrepreneur who has a vision,” Jeffers said.
Knight said he wants to lift his new neighborhood, one of the poorest in Maine.
It begins with investment like this, he said.
"The only way to drive out problems is not to have a whole bunch of vacant buildings in the downtown,” he said.
He is also careful not to harm other businesses, he said. Knight met with Louis Morin, the director of the Franco Center, and told him that he does not want to compete with the center for business.
After all, much of the center's revenue also comes from hosting weddings and receptions.
"I don't want to compete with the Franco Center, not because I'm opposed to competition and capitalism, but rather because I don't want to take money from the community,” he said. "Ultimately, it really is my goal to bring in new business from outside the L-A area."
Renovations at St. Patrick will likely begin in the fall, he said.
"I don't know if this enterprise is going to make money or if I'm going to blow a ton of money on something that just cannot be resurrected,” he said. "But that's not why I'm doing this. I'm doing this because I couldn't be more excited about owning this property and turning it into something awesome.”