Richbell Capital is planning an ambitious multiphase project that will transform the former Bethesda Episcopal Church rectory and an adjacent lot into a 250-person banquet facility linked with the historic Adelphi Hotel.
Plans for the two Washington Street properties the company purchased this year were unveiled during the city Design Review Commission’s meeting last week, during which they asked to demolish the rear portion of the former rectory and several smaller buildings on the half-acre property. The project will transform the rear of the Adelphi and adjacent property into an area with secluded gardens and a 675-square-foot pool bar, and provide a facility that can host large weddings or functions without interrupting the hotel’s operations.
Plans show the 1,400-square-foot rectory being transformed into a “pre-function area” that will include suites in a new two-story addition over the part of the structure proposed for demolition. A single-story 4,500-square-foot banquet hall and 885-square-foot service area is proposed to adjoin the back of the new addition, with the remainder of the property being reserved for a new outdoor pool, patio and gardens.
On the vacant land next to the rectory and hemmed in by an alley behind the Rip Van Dam, Richbell is proposing to build a three- to-four-story structure to house the facility’s management offices and up to six additional suites that will connect to the rectory building via the second floor. The project is being planned to coincide with the massive renovation of the Adelphi, which has been on hold for months but is expected to resume shortly.
Richbell shuttered the Adelphi following the racing season in 2012 in preparation for an extensive renovation to transform the 1877 building into a modern hotel with 32 suites, a state-of-the-art kitchen, basement-level spa and 1,100-square-foot glass conservatory. City planners approved renovation plans in August 2013, allowing work to begin on an aggressive overhaul of the building’s interior a short time later. But engineers on the project encountered a number of longstanding structural problems with the building that caused the projected cost of the renovation — already in the millions of dollars — to skyrocket.
Richbell halted work on the interior earlier this year and began pursuing federal historic tax credits to make the renovation economically viable. Jeff Ward, Richbell’s senior construction manager, told members of the commission that the Adelphi project should take about 18 months and is projected to wrap up around June 2016.
The company’s intention is to launch the three-phase rectory project as it overhauls the Adelphi. Ward said ideally the rectory project could start as the Adelphi project is concluding.
“The timing is important,” he told the commission Wednesday. “We’d like to do this on the way out.”
Members of the commission offered support for the project. Chairman Steve Rowland acknowledged much of it will fall under the purview of the city’s Planning Board, but offered praise for the preliminary plans.
“After seeing this and talking about it on site, this is a very exciting project,” he said during the meeting.
The rectory, a small stone home across from the iconic Bethesda Episcopal Church, was sold to Richbell for $1.05 million in October. Constructed in 1856 and owned by the Wiggins family for years, the building was purchased by Bethesda using funds presented to the Rev. Irving Rouillard as a wedding gift in 1920. The rectory has remained vacant since the Rev. Thomas Parke died in 2012. The parish decided to sell the building in part because of its deteriorating condition, but also because of its location near the bustle of Broadway made it a poor location to house the congregation’s pastor.
Richbell purchased the former Bethesda parish house for $1.15 million last summer and agreed to lease it to the congregation until 2017. The company hasn’t yet revealed plans for the property, which isn’t contiguous to its other holdings.
The parish house is located next to Universal Preservation Hall, which separates it from the rectory property. Bethesda intends to use the proceeds from the sale of the two properties and another it owns near Saratoga Lake to fund the construction of a new parish house adjacent to its church.
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