Even as a demolition contractor hovered around the historic Church of the Assumption wondering about bidding for the job, a city agency issued a temporary reprieve for the Spring Garden Street landmark.
It was not quite the salvation for the church linked to two of Philadelphia's Catholic saints - it will take more than a temporary stay to avert its demise - but the city's Licenses and Inspection Review Board on Tuesday froze the demolition permit pending a Jan. 8 hearing.
The ruling left neighbors hopeful of finding a new buyer to preserve the 1849, Patrick Keeley-designed brownstone church with distinctive twin copper-dipped spires, and left the current owner frustrated by further delays.
"I'm not too satisfied with today's decision," said Mika He, who with her husband, John Wei, owns the property at 11th and Spring Garden that includes the church, consecrated by St. John Neumann and where St. Katharine Drexel was baptized. "They want to hear more about this case. This case has been around for many, many years now."
Andrew Palewski of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association said the group still hoped a buyer could be found who would preserve the building. "I'm hopeful that we can open a dialogue with Mr. Wei," he said. "There have been buyers for this church before. I feel confident there will be buyers. The neighborhood is getting ready to explode, there's so much activity."
He said she and her husband were open to buyers, and said a person expressing interest had contacted them after the Tuesday meeting.
"To be honest, we do not want to be the bad guys. We're kind of overwhelmed, no matter how sorry we are we have to face it. The liability is too huge to say we're going to wait five or 10 years," He said.
At the site Tuesday morning, the Sisters of Mercy, who run Siloam, an HIV wellness center that was the previous owner and secured the current demolition permit, prepared for a volunteer dinner in the adjacent rectory, which is still in good condition. They are tenants.
Outside, demolition contractor Stephen Agresta took down Wei's information and said he hoped to bid on the job. He is in the midst of demolishing another church and school around the corner.
Agresta said the church's demolition would likely cost as much as $400,000. The owners claim that renovating the church would exceed $5 million.
"I do feel so bad," Agresta noted of his possible role in taking down the church and other properties like it. "I also get hungry. I can't make any money in Europe. They keep everything forever."