Beacon Church Plan Questioned

The Reformed Church of Beacon

The Reformed Church of Beacon (Photo by C. Rowe)

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.

11 thoughts on “Beacon Church Plan Questioned

  1. Why don’t they make a community center for children like we had some time ago before the real Beacon was forgotten about and disregarded for profit and gentrification? Folks put up signs supporting Black lives and whatnot, yet I see the oppo-site: The colonialist lives matter, not the generational townsmen and women.

  2. I wish the “planning” board had a little more foresight into the future needs of this incredible property. If protecting the historical integrity of this church, parsonage and cemetery is a concern, why were developers allowed to dwarf and box in such a beautiful town asset that is clearly best used as a community space? Sadly, the opportunity to truly “get this right” has long passed.

    While it would be great to see a youth center in Beacon, this is a property that needs substantial investment and ongoing maintenance; it would require significant funding from the city or a philanthropic investment. A hotel would bring significant tax income to the city, which can be put toward this type of programming, perhaps even using the facilities when available. And charging for parking along Beekman and/or on the unsightly lot across from West End Lofts could be another revenue source for the city that this project would bring to the table. This is also an incredible opportunity for a multitude of jobs and internships.

    I hope the city not only finds a way to see this project through, but works with the developers to make it a true asset for the economy and infrastructure of Beacon. It would also be great to see a city plan that celebrates Beacon’s place as a cultural destination over championing housing developments wherever a plot of land exists.

  3. Yet another who-cares-about-Beacon idea! Why would anyone want a hotel and a large-event space squeezed between two medium- and high-density residential complexes?

    The article needs a photo of the parsonage and an area and/or an aerial photo showing the church and parsonage as they are between the two recently built complexes.

    There is no significant parking in the area other than for these residences, as far as I know. This is a busy street and it is Route 9D. Any event space here will encourage double parking, stopped cars, loading and unloading and all kinds of accidents along this busy road.

  4. I’m so sick of developers telling us that historic buildings which inconvenience their plans have no historical significance. It most definitely is historical significant! Underneath that aluminum siding is a beautiful 1850-60 Italianate Revival house.

    I’m not against repurposing the property but I am against demolishing the parsonage to but up a hotel. These buildings are already bookended by those two massive developments. A 30-room hotel would complete the wall.

  5. Parking. Parking. Parking. Try and build a house with no parking. Good luck. But say you’re going to build a massive eyesore that could bring in visitors with no parking. No problem. Can you imagine telling the city, “I would not of bought this property if I knew I couldn’t make money off of it.” You would get laughed out of the building. But be a millionaire with stupid money, who’ll sue if they don’t get what they want, no problem. This taking care of the “investors” is total BS. Almost every building in Beacon has gotten zoning changed and it’s going to get worse. Can anyone say, “Craig House?” Sure you can. Beacon is just circling the drain. Watch what variances they’re going to get.

  6. If we can put unused condos and 10 million bars here, I’m OK with focusing on an artistic endeavor. [via Instagram]

  7. I would like to clear up any misconceptions about our development of the former Reformed Church. Our investment group has not proposed a concert venue; it will not be a nightclub, nor will it be Webster Hall or anything similar. We are not asking for a zoning change but a use change, as it was previously religious.

    We are Beacon residents. We are proposing an event space (the church) that will function as an accessory to the hotel (the parsonage) — small, with 25 to 30 rooms. The new use will not be that different from the current use of an active church-going congregation. The capacity of 500 is the number that the building would hold. It’s a big space, and we have considered the possibility of hosting a large event on occasion. However, we anticipate the majority of events to accommodate a much-smaller audience of between 100 and 200 people, and, to address concerns, we will reduce the maximum capacity considerably moving forward.

    We anticipate hosting kid-friendly and family entertainment as well as art exhibitions and theater, conferences, education talks, weddings and other performances, such as dance and, yes, music. I have a background in music and theater, so these things matter and we are looking to host intimate, quality events.

    To satisfy the Planning Board’s concerns, we are reviewing the hotel plan and making changes to include the existing parsonage house. I know that everyone might not have the same vision for the space, but we’re here to listen and work with the community to make this beautiful church open to all of us.

    I live five blocks from the church and have two small children, and the last thing we want is to host a rock concert with 500 guests every night. We are listening to concerns about parking and neighborhood disturbance, and are preparing traffic and parking studies to address these concerns and figure out our impact. [via Facebook]

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