Jewish Community Alliance gets $2.5M gift to buy Portland church, build new JCC

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PORTLAND — Spring meetings with neighbors and city officials are expected as the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine plans for a new community center to be built on the site of the former St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church.

“We really are going to be going forward,” alliance interim Executive Director Ellie Miller said Feb. 27, one day after a $2.5 million gift was announced from the Alfred and Dorothy Suzi Osher Foundation.

The JCA already has pledges for $4 million for the project, Miller said: The Osher gift, a $500,000 bequest from the estate of Sidney P. Levine, and $1 million in commitments from members of the JCA board of directors.

The Osher gift and other financial developments were announced Feb. 26 at an event attended by more than 100 people at the existing Jewish Community Center, 57 Ashmont St.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful set of moments in this institution,” Miller said. “It was really electric.”

The alliance announced in late December 2014 it had reached an agreement to buy the church and property at 1342 Congress St. from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Precise cost estimates and the goals of future fundraising are not fully determined because plans still need Planning Board approval, and the JCA wants to engage neighbors as part of the planning process, Miller said.

The alliance is working with Harriman & Associates principal Mark Lee on preliminary building designs that are twice the current community center space, or between 15,000 and 18,000 square feet.

The new center will be called the Morris A. and Bertha Levine Portland Jewish Community Center, according to a press release. It will also be home to Jewish Family Services, before-and after-school programs, and summer camps.

The current community center has been at Ashmont Street for more than 30 years, used by Jews and non-Jews from the mid-coast through southern York County. Before that, it was in a five-story building on Cumberland Avenue.

Levine, a Portland native and former tailor who died in 2011, left his assets to the JCA. Miller said the alliance was informed by executor Steve Schwartz that some additional funds may be available.

Community Center member Dan Bruzgo, a trustee of the Alfred and Dorothy Suzi Osher Foundation, said the gift helps fulfill the foundation’s mission.

“This project fits hand in glove with the Oshers’ philanthropic priorities and is exactly how Al Osher would have wanted to support his community,” he said.

Miller declined to disclose the purchase price for the diocese property, but said the deal will be completed after the Planning Board reviews plans for the 2.2-acre site. An online listing by Malone Commercial Brokers lists $1.6 million as the asking price.

City tax records indicate St. Patrick’s was built in 1964. Church services ended there in 2013, six years after the parish school, also on Congress Street, was sold. The school was converted to condominiums.

The diocese previously reached an agreement in 2013 to sell the church property to Charter Realty & Development Corp., the owners of nearby Westgate Shopping Center, but the deal was never completed.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

A sketch of the planned Jewish Community Center to be built on the current site of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, 1342 Congress St., Portland. The Jewish Community Alliance announced Feb. 26 it has pledges of $4 million the project.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.