Big Turnout for Merion Meeting to Talk About St. Charles Seminary Redevelopment

At the Merion Tribute House on Wednesday night, Susan Guthrie began by telling her larger than expected audience, “We believe it’s better to be prepared and not needed, than needed and unprepared.” Guthrie is one of the founding members of the recently formed Coalition for Neighborhood Character and Quality (CNCQ), a community group which hopes to minimize the negative impacts as St. Charles Seminary moves ahead with its plan to sell more than half of the 80 acres it currently occupies in Wynnewood.

Earlier this week Property reported that the Pittsburgh-based HHF LP announced
last week that “it has been exclusively retained for the disposition of the St. Charles
Borromeo Seminary Development Site.”

Before the meeting began, CNCQ members had neatly arranged about 50 chairs in the front room of the Tribute House (the room that’s usually used for serving cocktails to wedding and Bar/Bat Mitzvah guests before they’re ushered into “the big room” for dinner and dancing).

By 7:30, when the meeting was scheduled to begin, the organizers realized that their cause had generated more interest than they had anticipated. The early birds were all asked to “grab a chair” because the meeting was being moved to “the big room” where, eventually, more than a hundred neighbors assembled.

Guthrie is a former Lower Merion School Board director (with a Ph.D. in economics). She is married to Todd Sinai, a professor at Penn in the Real Estate Department. While Guthrie briefed the crowd about the impending changes at the seminary, Sinai worked the Power Point and later attempted to answer the numerous “what if” questions that the neighbors posed.

On behalf of the coalition, Guthrie expressed her appreciation to Seminary Rector Bishop Timothy Senior who has engaged the community at the early stage of the development planning process. Yesterday, Cheryl Alison reported in that she had spoken to the Bishop.

To that end, Senior said he will be meeting with Sinai and some other members of the new community coalition next week. Told that residents at the meeting had expressed a desire to be made aware of at least the narrowed-down list of development proposals as the seminary reaches that stage, he said he would take that desire “very seriously.”

“A community collaboration would be ideal, but I am not in a position at this point to commit to it,” he said. “The fewer surprises with the community, the better,” he acknowledged.