Parsonage would be demolished for new hotel
Parking, traffic and the demolition of a structure dating to the mid-1800s.
Those are some of the concerns facing a team of investors who want to renovate the historic Reformed Church of Beacon into an event space with a capacity of 500 and demolish the church’s parsonage and replace it with a 30-room hotel.
Prophecy Theater LLC faced pushback on Tuesday (July 13), when they introduced their project to Beacon’s Planning Board. Gavin Hecker, one of Prophecy Theater’s owners, said the group considers the parsonage beyond repair and said a previous study determined it had no historical significance.
But John Gunn, chair of the board, said “the rest of Beacon may have a different observation” about the significance of the building, which along with the church occupies a strip of Wolcott Avenue, pinched between two new housing complexes: River Ridge Views townhouses and the West End Lofts apartments.
“It’s part of Beacon’s history; it’s part of the fabric that we’re all responding to changing so rapidly, and that a lot of your fellow residents feel is just getting lost,” he said. “That’s one component that we’re going to be talking a lot about.”
Prophecy is proposing “minimal changes” to the main church building, was built in 1859 and designed by famed architect Frederick Clarke Withers. The sanctuary would become a venue for music concerts and other live events, and the rear of the building a cafe with a deck overlooking the Hudson River.
Hecker is a musician, promoter and post-production sound technician for film and television who moved to Beacon with his family two years ago. In 2010, he founded the PhilaMOCA performance space in Philadelphia, inside a former mausoleum showroom that dates to 1865.
As part of the development, the church’s historic cemetery would get a makeover and a new walking path connecting Beekman Street to Route 9D installed. The cemetery was the original burial site for William Few, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, but has become overgrown.
Only on “rare occasions” would the church host events drawing 500 people, said Hecker. Most events would draw between 100 and 200, he said. Large events would be limited to Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“The rest of the week, it would be there for community use — classes, education, art shows, exhibitions,” said Hecker.
Where attendees will park is a major concern.
Prophecy would have 31 spaces on-site for employees and hotel guests, but is otherwise looking to meet the city’s parking requirements through the use of street spaces. Beekman Street has 72 “underutilized” spaces, and the group is also exploring renting a parking lot across Route 9D from the church property that can hold up to 80 vehicles, said Hecker.
“We realize that there is a parking requirement that we’re not meeting specifically with the code,” he said.
The parsonage was built as a single-family home in the mid-19th century before being donated to the church in 1907, said John Clarke, a consultant for the Planning Board. He recommended that the developers retain the parsonage’s facade in constructing the hotel.
The developers also need a special-use permit because Beacon’s zoning code does not allow for event venues in that area. The code does allow for hotel and “hotel-related” accessory uses, but a venue holding 500 people “seems entirely inconsistent as an accessory use to a 30-room hotel,” Clarke wrote in his review of Prophecy’s application.
Gunn said a hotel “makes a lot of sense” but one “right next to two residential developments with a potential for 500 people at a concert, makes zero sense.”
“This is a very unique site,” he said. “It’s a very unique opportunity to really mess it up, and it’s also a very unique opportunity to get it right.”
The Reformed Church of Beacon was founded in 1813. Its original wood building was demolished in 1859 to make way for the current red-brick structure. Few, a Georgia senator, was buried at the cemetery in 1828 after dying while visiting Beacon, then known as Fishkill Landing. His remains were moved in 1973 to Augusta, Georgia, at that state’s request.
The church’s history also includes a visit from the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher during the Civil War. With membership shrinking, the church closed in the spring of 2020, holding its last service virtually. An evangelical congregation based in Orange County, Goodwill Church, has been renting the space since June 2020 for services.