By Michael DePietro
When Niagara Catholic High School closed for good in June 2018, many local residents wondered how long the structure would stay closed, and what might eventually become of it.
That was until this week, when it was announced the property had been purchased by The Chapel, an Amherst-based megachurch. In addition to Niagara Falls, the Chapel now has four campuses throughout Western New York, including Cheektowaga, Lockport and the flagship Crosspoint location in Getzville.
According to Catholic Diocese of Buffalo spokeswoman Kathy Spangler, The Chapel will acquire the main school building, which is approximately 60,000 square-feet, as well as the former St. Dominic Savio middle school, which is approximately 25,000 square-feet, as one parcel.
Both organizations declined to discuss the sales figures before the sale has been finalized.
The Chapel plans to use the property primarily for its services in Niagara Falls.
“We’re really excited about being able to have a visible, identifiable presence in Niagara Falls,” said Jonathan Drake, campus pastor of The Chapel’s Niagara Falls satellite. “It’s been on our hearts for a really long time to do that, and we’re just so excited that this became an option for us to explore. We can’t wait for this (property) to have a new purpose.”
Since March 31, The Chapel has held Sunday services inside the Regal Cinemas on Builder’s Way as part of a one-year lease agreement with the theater.
Although Drake insists The Chapel has been more than satisfied with the accommodations Regal has provided thus far, the search for a permanent home in the Falls has been in the works for the past couple of years.
“We’ve probably evaluated, or looked through, or at least drove by over 40 different properties, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that Niagara Catholic became an option for us (and) we started going down that road,” Drake said.
While the deal is yet to be finalized, Drake explained the church is expecting to close on the deal by the end of the summer. However, no timetable is available for when The Chapel plans to begin utilizing the property. Drake said the church is currently identifying the areas of the property that will require renovation and/or modification.
“The good news is it’s in relatively good shape, as it was just used the previous school year, 2017-2018,” Drake said. “But there would be some modifications that we would need to make so that it would be conducive for worship gatherings.”
For now, Drake said the church is simply focused on closing the deal.
”We have to close by the end of the summer, and at that point would be able to kind of figure out what needs construction, what things we’ll need to hire, what things our congregation will do themselves,” he said.
In the meantime, Drake said The Chapel has every intention of honoring its current one-year contract with Regal and will extend that contract, if necessary, depending on renovations.
The sale of Niagara Catholic marks the third major land sale between the diocese and The Chapel. Previously, the Chapel acquired the former St. Mary’s Church, rectory and school in Lockport in 2016. In 2007, the Chapel acquired the former St. Florian’s R.C. Church in Buffalo.
News of the deal has so far been met with positive reactions with people and organizations affiliated with the site.
Judith Nolan Powell, Niagara Catholic’s final board president, said she is pleased the diocese was successful in finding a buyer for the property.
“It will be good to see the facility occupied again. I know that many of my fellow trustees and alumni share this sentiment,” she said.
Preliminary conversations between The Chapel and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Community Center located next to the school buildings have also been fruitful.
While the center had recently considered plans to purchase the middle school site before learning of The Chapel’s involvement, the center’s board chairman, Gary Hall, said he saw the sale as a great opportunity to build a new community partnership.
“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to serve their youth, as well,” Hall said. “Any of the folks who come (to The Chapel), their children will be able to use the facility, and we’re happy to have them. You know, they’re all Western New York kids and that’s what we’re here for.”
Drake similarly noted much of The Chapel’s own focus has been on outreach and community development in the areas they’ve expanded to.
“(The Chapel’s) desire is to make some sort of community partnerships that we could collaborate and (figure out) how to best use that space so that it wouldn’t be just something that our church uses, but that could be something that is a blessing to the community,” he said.
Additionally, while discussions are still in the early stages between the organizations, it seems the expansion of the Community Center may also still be a viable plan in the future. Hall said The Chapel has seemed interested in the center’s ideas for the middle school site and that the center will work to draft a cohesive plan as well as drum-up donor support.
In the end, Drake said The Chapel is looking forward to continuing to build positive relationships in the Falls.
“We’re grateful and excited, and I think it’s going to be a blessing to the LaSalle community, specifically, but also to Niagara Falls as a whole,” Drake said.