Properties of the Faith: ND experts help Church leaders consider real estate options

Author: Brendan O'Shaughnessy

Church Properties

In the mid-2010s, Church and parish leaders from St. Austin Parish in Austin, Texas, realized their 50-year-old school, ministry and rectory maintenance costs would soon overwhelm their financial resources.

Updates or reconstruction of the old buildings would cost more than the urban parish could afford, said Patricia Dolese, a graduate of Notre Dame and Texas and a volunteer project manager for the parish.

What they had was prime real estate right next to the expanding University of Texas. But they didn’t want to sell their land and move away from their beloved neighborhood and parish church, so they needed to get creative.

Did they ever. The parish landed a 99-year land-lease deal where developers are building a tall residential building for Texas students on parish land. The 29-story tower will include a new parish rectory and gym, plus proceeds to construct new school and ministry buildings, and ongoing funds to maintain all of it. The tower will also include 200 affordable housing beds that will help low-income college students save a total of about $2 million per year.

This kind of forward-thinking focus on property and mission is exactly why Notre Dame’s Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate (FIRE) started the Church Properties Initiative (CPI) last year. One of CPI’s early research efforts was a case study of the Austin project.

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