January 14, 2016

Lafayette Lofts: The Second Coming of Buffalo's Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church

The exterior of the Lafayette Presbyterian Church

photo by: Carmina-Wood-Morris Architects

For a resident of the Lafayette Lofts in Buffalo, New York, going to church is as simple as turning the key in his or her front door.

Eight years ago, the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church’s dwindling congregation was struggling to maintain a 60,000-square-foot stone building that dated from the 19th century. The parishioners knew they had to come up with a creative solution, or risk losing a structure that their congregation had occupied since the 1890s.

The church turned to Carmina-Wood-Morris architects and Port City Preservation LLC in Syracuse for help with a project that would ultimately take three years to complete. The architects and developer were able to convert the majority of the building into 21 residential lofts, while still maintaining a 300-seat sanctuary for parishioners.

“The issue of churches is a huge problem in the Northeast,” says Murray Gould of Port City Preservation LLC, who served as the project’s developer. “The church is built to seat 1,400, and they had a 60,000-square-foot building, and they were going under. They only used 7 percent of the space. We found a way to allow them to stay.”

Project leads Jonathan Morris and Wendy Ferrie of Carmina-Wood-Morris agree that the process was challenging. “We faced an incredible task when converting this into a mixed-use space,” says Morris. Many of the lofts retain elements from their previous uses, like an old gymnasium and a bowling alley. Contractors uncovered and restored wooden trusses in the chapel, which had been concealed for sixty years under drop ceilings, and were able to restore and incorporate stained-glass windows.

Interior of Lafayette Lofts featuring original bowling alley flooring

photo by: Carmina-Wood-Morris Architects

Wood flooring from an original bowling alley is incorporated into this unit.

Lafeyette Lofts interior featuring original stained-glass windows

photo by: Carmina-Wood-Morris Architects

The architects were able to re-purpose original stained glass windows in the redesign.

The results are a stunning testament to the possibilities of adaptive reuse. In addition to the 21 units, which include one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans in both period Tudor and more modern styles, the redesign also includes a culinary center in the basement that features commercial kitchen equipment and rentable space for catering companies and other small businesses, with room for a Montessori school next door. An event and meeting area offers a venue for community weddings, conferences, and other large events, and a large parlor allows for more intimate gatherings of up to 50 people.

“It was a hard project, it was very hard,” says Gould of the process. “Financing, coming up with a way to use the tax credits and make them adaptable and get it through the National Park Service.” The project utilized both New York state and federal historic tax credits, which Gould says allowed for its financial success.

All of the units have been rented out since they first became available to the public, with 600 people on a contact list in case one of them opens up. Murray says that when a unit goes up for rent, it is typically snatched up within a few days.

“The church is such an example for other communities that are in this situation to follow,” Gould says. “[The parishioners] took a huge amount of risk. It was a very hard journey. But they have a nice facility, they’re there, they can just focus on their mission, and we can focus on taking care of the property.”

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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