Historic Bolton Hill church heads to auction

The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church plans to sell an 1881 church in Bolton Hill at auction next month.

The Strawbridge United Methodist Church property, which stopped being used in 2009 and likely requires “multiple millions” in renovation, will go to the highest bidder at the auction June 19, regardless of price, said Stephen Ferrandi, a principal with the NAI KLNB commercial brokerage, who is marketing the property. Previous efforts to sell the property – documents show an asking price of $600,000 -- were unsuccessful, he said.

“Obviously we’re hoping to get some excitement stirred up and get multiple buyers who see this as the gem we all see it as and get multiple bidders competing against one another to raise the price … but we don’t know,” said Ferrandi, who started to specialize in selling houses of worship in 1997, after his family closed its longtime restoration business, which had focused on sacred properties.

The church, which is governed by historic preservation rules, is named for Robert Strawbridge, a Colonial-era Methodist preacher based in Maryland and buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The building, located on Wilson Street at the corner of Park Avenue, has room for about 300 people, Ferrandi said. The auction also includes a three-story rowhouse once used as a rectory.

“It’s really a very sad situation because it’s a beautiful church that’s just been subjected to a little more neglect than it should have been,” said Stephen Howard, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, who said the community would be open to anything that “contributes to the neighborhood." “It could be a lot of interesting things and we need somebody with creativity and some energy.”

The buyers of sacred properties are typically other religious groups, said Dan Billig, a partner at A.J. Billig and Co., Auctioneers, who estimated that the company has auctioned “at least a half dozen” other religious properties.

Ferrandi said the deep pockets needed for the Bolton Hill church make it a better candidate for a private developer who could adapt it for a different use. The groups approached during the unsuccessful selling process included The Maryland Institute College of Art, he said.

As the the number of religious properties coming to market accelerates due to aging, shrinking congregations and dwindling resources for maintenance, the number of conversions will grow, Ferrandi said.

“The economic reality will just become that much more forward,” he said. “At that point you’ll start seeing conversions.”

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