Entering a new era on the East Side

| March 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Archdiocese looks forward to new site’s opportunities, but won’t forget pain that motivated move

Before leaving his office at the old chancery for the last time, Father Charles Lachowitzer took down a portrait of Archbishop John Ireland and turned off the lights. For the vicar general and moderator of the curia, removing that picture of the legendary archbishop was a solemn moment of finality and a symbol of transition.

In February, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis moved its longtime headquarters from three Cathedral Hill buildings to Dayton’s Bluff, a neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side. The archdiocese sold its former offices in 2016 in order to increase the amount available to victims of clergy sexual abuse. Now the three office buildings — the former chancery and archbishop’s residence, the Msgr. Ambrose Hayden Center and the Dayton Building — await the vision of their new owners.

The move marked the end of an era for the archdiocese, but despite the significance, it drew little fanfare. Father Lachowitzer said no neighbors stopped at the chancery to say goodbye, and no media showed up to document the archdiocese’s transition. While some employees simply packed up, others acknowledged the move with a blessing, a toast and reminiscing. Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrated a final Mass in Hayden Feb. 9.

“It was sad,” said Linda Botkin, a longtime employee who works in the metropolitan tribunal. “When I left the [Hayden] building for the last time, I thought, ‘… after 32 years being there, it was kind of a sad feeling.’”

Many of the archdiocese’s 120 employees have found the transition to be both an uprooting and a replanting, as they look forward to new opportunities now that they will — for the first time in decades — be working together under one roof. For years, the majority of employees, including those in the tribunal and offices of Marriage, Family and Life; Latino Ministry; Catholic education; financial services; and Parish and Clergy Services — and their predecessors — worked in the Hayden Center on Kellogg Boulevard. The bishops’ offices, along with those of the vicar general and canonical and civil chancellors, were housed up the hill in the chancery at 226 Summit Ave. Employees in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and the Communications Office, including the staff of The Catholic Spirit, were tucked behind the Cathedral of St. Paul in the Dayton Building on Dayton Avenue.

Now the archdiocese’s 25 offices are unpacking 4 miles northeast at 777 Forest St., the former headquarters of 3M.

Impressive history

Then known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company — which the brass lettering still visible over the main doors attests — 3M constructed the two-story, Moderne-style building for its central administration offices in 1939. Clad in limestone and called “Building 21,” it served as the company’s headquarters until 1962, when the company moved its main campus 3 miles east to Maplewood. Building 21 sat vacant, but 3M kept its East Side campus until 2009, when it sold it to the St. Paul Port Authority, the city’s development arm, which razed the campus’ manufacturing buildings and is developing the former campus into the Beacon Bluff Business Center.

Designed by prominent industrial architect Albert Kahn, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Its renovation for the archdiocese was obligated to preserve the 1940s decor, including a central brass and glass revolving door and a mahogany-paneled lobby. Offices and conference rooms ring the perimeter, and workspaces occupy the interior spaces. The office that once belonged to longtime 3M President and Chairman William McKnight is being used for meetings with the archbishop.

The archdiocese is renting the building with a 10-year lease from the Exeter Group, a St. Paul developer that purchased the building from the Port Authority. The renovation costs were built into the lease, the expense of which is equal to or less than the operating costs of the three former buildings, archdiocesan officials said. The building, however, has less square footage than that of the three former buildings combined.

Father Lachowitzer said it’s important for local Catholics to recognize that the archdiocese is the tenant, not the owner, of the space, and that the once stately building symbolizes 3M’s history, not the archdiocese’s.

Over the course of the lease, the change will serve as a daily reminder of the local sexual abuse crisis and the archdiocese’s decision to divest its own historical properties in an effort to bring justice to sexual abuse victims. The archdiocese entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2015 amid mounting claims of clergy sexual abuse. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature lifted the civil statute of limitations on claims of child sexual abuse for a three-year period; by August 2015, more than 450 claims of abuse were brought against the archdiocese. The Cathedral Hill buildings’ sales added $8.6 million to the more than $155 million proposed plan for Reorganization that the archdiocese has put before a U.S. bankruptcy court judge.

People must never forget that it was clergy sexual abuse that led the archdiocese to sell its buildings, Father Lachowitzer said.

“We’re not here because we were looking for a better office for our staff,” he said. “We’re here because we have sold all our properties as part of working with the federal court to provide a just and fair restitution for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse.”

Archbishop Hebda agreed, adding that he was delighted the archdiocese was able to find a modest space for continuing its work in a way that reflects Pope Francis’ challenge to go out to the peripheries. “The rehabilitation of the building has resulted in a dignified space that nonetheless communicates our commitment to those who have claims against us,” he said.

Neighborhood anchor

With the arrival of the archdiocese’s central offices, Dayton’s Bluff gained one of its largest employers with the potential to add to the area’s redevelopment.

Monte Hilleman, the St. Paul Port Authority’s senior vice president of real estate development, sees the addition of the archdiocese as a significant gain for the development. He anticipates an economic boost, improving the social quality of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Deanna Abbott-Foster, executive director of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, sees that opportunity for an area that has grown in the past five years. She said an employer arriving with 120 workers is “a very significant thing for us.”

“Hopefully, the archdiocesan folks will come out and spend time in some of the restaurants and really get to know the neighborhood,” said Abbott-Foster, a Catholic and alumna of the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “We’re really hoping to engage with … the archdiocese, as being a really strong anchor organization in the community.”

Before St. Paul was a city, the Dayton’s Bluff area was a sacred site for Dakota American Indians and is home to extant burial grounds. By the 1860s, its geography overlooking the Mississippi River and a growing downtown St. Paul inspired the wealthy to build houses there. Modest homes — many belonging to railroad workers — joined the Victorian mansions, and the neighborhood offered numerous jobs through Hamm’s Brewery, 3M and Whirlpool. With the departure of all three employers, other businesses closed, families moved away and crime increased.

The past decade has seen the green shoots of a neighborhood resurgence, attributed in part to the city’s investment in rehabilitating some of its vacant houses.

Joe Kueppers, chancellor for civil affairs at the archdiocese, first saw the building when he and Tom Mertens, the archdiocese’s chief financial officer, were exploring places for the archdiocese to lease. Kueppers said it looked “raw.” The lobby hinted at its historic glory, but the rest of the building was gutted. Water leak stains spotted the floor. Walls and pillars were stark and tattered.

Despite its dilapidated state, Kueppers, whose prior practice included real estate law, saw the potential.

Several characteristics stood out to archdiocesan leaders about the former 3M facility from more than a dozen other buildings they considered leasing. It fit the archdiocese’s desire to move to an area where it could have a positive impact. The nearby parishes of Sacred Heart, St. Casimir and St. Patrick minister to the neighborhood’s immigrants and refugees, including Catholics from Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.

Mertens said it was also a priority to find a building where the archdiocese could be the sole tenant, and where all offices could be in the same building.

The idea of coming together under one roof became a touchstone for staff in the year between the lease announcement in February 2016 and the move.

Deacon Steve Maier, director of the Office of Parish and Clergy Services, oversaw the relocation, drawing on his experience of working at Target corporate for 32 years before joining the archdiocesan staff in 2016. “It’s a new day,” he said of the move, noting that he admired how many people’s gifts came together in the process.

With the employees mostly unpacked, they have transitioned back to their daily ministry in a new chapter of the local Church’s history. Archbishop Hebda said there’s great synergy now with everyone working together in the same place.

“I like it. I really do. It’s growing on me,” said Lorna Anderson, executive assistant for the Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment who has worked for the archdiocese since 2009. She said she hopes to get more religious art on the walls to help the space feel less “3M-ish” and more like an archdiocesan pastoral center.

Father Lachowitzer, who said he is still unpacking, plans to find a place for Archbishop Ireland’s picture, too.

— Maria Wiering contributed to this story

Photos by Dave Hrbacek , Caron Olhoft/The Catholic Spirit

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