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Location of UUA headquarters under review again

Board asks for analysis of staying on Beacon Hill versus relocating office space.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
11.14.11

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The Boston headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association at 25 Beacon St., in Boston, Mass. (Christopher L. Walton)

At its October meeting in Boston, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association drafted a statement in executive session saying that it should explore alternatives to keeping the UUA headquarters on Beacon Hill “to be good stewards of the association.”

The statement was released on November 9, 2011, when it was read by Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, at a monthly meeting of all UUA staff.

“Staying in our current buildings will require substantial investment over the next few years, while selling our current buildings would allow us both to move to more efficient, up-to-date, flexible office space and to add to the association’s endowment, providing ongoing program support long into the future,” the board’s statement said.

The board asked the staff to analyze four possible scenarios that the trustees can review at their January meeting. They are:

  • Staying in the current building and investing in the necessary upgrades;
  • Exploring the possibility of submitting another bid for the Hebrew College site in Newton, Mass., which has not yet found a buyer;
  • Moving to another location in central Boston;
  • Moving to another location in the United States.

In the spring of 2011, the UUA had submitted a bid to purchase the Hebrew College campus as a site for a new UUA headquarters. The preliminary bid had an expiration date of June 28, according to Brennan, who said that the day came and went with no response. Brokers for the Hebrew College property said they would contact the association if they wished to continue talks. However, no response followed.

Hebrew College is reportedly selling the property as part of a deal with its creditors to eliminate $32 million in debt, and is holding classes in leased space at the neighboring Andover Newton Theological School. Brennan told the board during its Sept. 22 conference call that bondholders are seeking more money for the property than the UUA offered and will likely find other ways to dispose of the property that would yield higher returns.

The new analysis would examine whether it is feasible to submit another bid on the property, which includes 6.7 acres of land and a 70,000-square-foot building designed by architect Moshe Safdie, whose other projects include the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem.

In addition to the UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon St., the UUA also owns three other buildings on downtown Boston’s Beacon Hill: 41 Mt. Vernon St., an office building which houses Beacon Press and UUA staff, and the Eliot and Pickett Houses on Mt. Vernon Place, brick town houses that serve as a 20-room bed and breakfast for UUA members and visitors.

The American Unitarian Association built 25 Beacon St. as its headquarters in 1925–1927. 41 Mount Vernon St. was built as an office building in 1917. The Eliot and Pickett Houses were built as town houses in 1899.

Only the board can buy or sell real estate on behalf of the association. At its April 2011 meeting, the board adopted a policy to guide future property or relocation decisions. The policy includes a series of “Broad Concerns” that asks how any purchase or sale would promote the “Shared Vision” of the UUA. It asks the board to take into account how a transaction would affect concerns about justice, antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism. Other questions assess the financial impact, symbolic value, and impact upon stakeholders, including staff, board members, congregations, lay leaders, ministers, youth, and young adults. Additional concerns focus on accessibility and environmental impact.


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