In Washington, D.C., nestled between the Supreme Court and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, is a building many passersby mistook for just another vacant church.
To Casey Klein, the stone structure on the northeast corner of Stanton Park on Capitol Hill looked like an opportunity, which he soon jumped at. Until 2015, the building was owned and occupied by the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation.
Klein, the managing partner of Morningstar Community Development, is one of many developers across the country snapping up churches to transform them into homes, restaurants, bars, hotels or offices.
According to CoStar, the commercial real estate data firm, more than 1,500 religious-affiliated properties were sold in 2014, a rise of 68% when compared with 2010. Many of these churches are selling up because of shifting needs among their congregations; others are finding themselves on the wrong end of a bank foreclosure.
In the case of the Imani Temple, founded in 1989 by George Augustus Stallings, Jr., a colorful character in D.C.’s religious communities, most of the congregation no longer lives in Capitol Hill. With parking so difficult, they decided to pick up and move to Prince George’s County.
The group paid $950,000 for the property in 1994 and the former Presbyterian church served as its headquarters until it was put on the market for around $5.8 million. Morningstar bought it in January 2015 for an undisclosed sum.
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Klein originally planned to turn the church into six luxury homes. But he’s received so much interest from potential buyers that he decided to put it back on the market with a guide price of $5.9 million, curious as to how much potential buyers will offer.
“Since we’ve owned it we’ve received lots of inquiries from all kinds of parties, so we’re going to formally assess what interest there is in the building,” he said.
Due to neighborhood restrictions, the building cannot be converted for commercial use. Nor can the exterior be changed significantly. Still, there are plenty of options for a new buyer, such as establishing another place of worship or building out a dormitory, luxury condos or education center.
If Klein opts to keep the building, his high-end homes within it will likely come with many of the church’s original features. It’s the same story elsewhere, as developers converting churches are often required—or choose—to retain exteriors, steeples, bell towers and stained glass windows.
In Sag Harbor, for example, art collector and gallery owner Sloan Schaffer recently put a former United Methodist Church, complete with the property’s original fourth-story bell tower, up for sale for $19.5 million. He paid $4 million for the early-19th-century church, which closed in 2008, and has been converting the property into a six-bedroom home due for completion next year.
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Meanwhile, in Long Island, another converted church is on sale for $4.3 million. It was the original chapel to Wheatly, an Old Westbury grand estate of Edwin D. Morgan III, the 21st governor of the state of New York. It was built between 1890 and 1900 and restored in 1998.
The chapel has been completely preserved, and now serves as the main living area off the attached house. The original stained glass windows and altar steps were retained—only now, the steps lead up to a fireplace.
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