The Portland Roman Catholic diocese plans to use money from the sale of two Westbrook churches to pay for a major renovation of St. Hyacinth’s church.

Sue Bernard, communications director for the diocese, said current plans call for the St. Mary’s and St. Edmund’s properties to be sold. The diocese would then use that money to remodel St. Hyacinth’s so it could accommodate the new combined parish of St. Anthony’s.

Currently, the diocese only has plans to market the St. Edmund’s and St. Mary’s properties, said Bernard. There has been some talk that the former St. Hyacinth’s school and convent as well as the adjacent park and ball field would be sold as well. Bernard said that isn’t in the current plan, though she did not completely rule out that possibility. “Right now everything stays intact at St. Hyacinth’s,” she said. “(The sale of the St. Hyacinth’s properties) could be something we do in the future. But that’s not something we’re talking about right now.”

The diocese has also held preliminary talks with the city regarding the parking lot at St. Hyacinth’s. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the city is looking to reach an agreement with the church that would help to ease some of the parking problems in the Brown Street area. Bryant said parking is tight in that neighborhood, especially in the vicinity of the Dana Warp Mill. The extra spaces could be used as daytime parking for workers in the area as well as possibly being used as overnight off-street parking for residents during snowstorms, said Bryant. “The city has parking needs,” Bryant said. “The church has a parking lot that is underutilized on weekdays and evenings.”

Bryant said the city would pay the church for the use of the spaces and that cost would be recouped through money received from lease fees for the spaces. He said this would mean the city would secure extra parking at virtually no cost to the taxpayers. “The benefit to the church would be income from the spaces and the benefit to the city would be expanded parking availability,” he said.

Bernard confirmed the diocese had held some preliminary talks with the city about parking, but she said the talks were still just in the discussion phase and no agreement had been reached.

In June, the city entered into an agreement with the owner of the One Riverfront Plaza office building, giving the owner the right to lease up to 90 parking spaces from the city within a 1,000 square foot radius of the building. Bryant said the St. Hyacinth’s spaces could be used as part of that agreement, though he would not commit to that. “I’m not saying they are (going to be used as part of that agreement),” he said. “But they certainly could be.”

No matter how the spaces are used, the city still needs to reach an agreement with the church first. Bryant said talks over the parking spaces have been on hold while the parish determined its future. Now that the parish has chosen to move to St. Hyacinth’s, Bryant said he expects the talks would continue. “We’re going to resume those discussions,” he said.

The plan approved by the parish at a meeting last month would move all parish operations to St. Hyacinth’s. The parish hall on the lower floor of the building would be remodeled into a two-floor space to allow for meeting rooms and classrooms, offices and a chapel. Bernard said the diocese has an estimate of $3.75 million for the St. Hyacinth’s project, but she added that was a preliminary estimate and the figure could change.

The decision to sell any church property rests with Bishop Richard Joseph Malone, said Bernard. She said the bishop has not yet given his approval for any changes to the Westbrook churches. She said the bishop’s office is waiting for a formal request to move parish operations to St. Hyacinth’s from St. Anthony’s Pastor Rev. Reggie Brissette, who is currently out of the country on vacation until later this week. Bernard said she expects the bishop will quickly sign off on the request and after that, the diocese will begin marketing the St. Mary’s and St. Edmund’s properties and completing plans to remodel St. Hyacinth’s.

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