One model of the mixed-use development planned by the Archives of the Episcopal Church

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

An eight-year project to establish a new home for Archives of the Episcopal Church took a leap forward June 10 when Executive Council approved up to $3.3 million in spending to complete the project.

“This is the first step we have taken beyond where we have been for the past eight or 10 years,” said Mark Duffy, who has been the Episcopal Church’s archivist since 1992.

With the council’s unanimous vote, the Episcopal Church is on track for a 65,000-square foot archives facility with a small museum that will open for business by 2021, Duffy said.

Getting to that point will involve constructing a new building on a parcel in Austin that is currently a parking lot. The church is reviewing proposals from five developers to create a mixed-use development of residential, office, and retail space in addition to the archives. The site allows for as much 600,000 square feet of development.

Though a development partner will help cover construction costs, the church still needed Executive Council’s approval for various development and move-in costs. The largest line item will be transportation for the archives, which are currently spread across five locations (four in Austin, one in New York City) and occupy 20,000 cubic feet. The cost to prepare, secure, move, and unpack the collection is estimated at $1.2 million.

Less than 5 percent of the new facility will be dedicated to a museum, but the addition of exhibit space will mark a victory for the archives’ mission, Duffy said. When visitors come to Austin, they’ll see a glimpse of a vast collection that includes the church’s foundational documents, important texts in American missionary history, and one of the country’s most significant collections of writings by colonial loyalists to the British crown.

“To be able to bring people in touch with the church’s identity and its history is, I think, kind of a little moment of transformation for them to say, It’s great to be an Episcopalian,” Duffy said. “It’s tangible. It’s real.”

The archives remain open for research, but they have outgrown their current locations, which include a facility at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. Duffy said the six-person staff spends around 10 hours per week just moving collections around to accommodate the tasks at hand.

“There are things hidden in our collections that we can’t get at because we have no space to work in,” Duffy said.

The archives project has been almost a decade in the making. In 2008, the Episcopal Church bought the parking lot to serve eventually as a new location for the archives. But the economic downturn delayed the project, compounded by problems in “communicating the value of this project in the way we’ve needed to.” The parking lot has instead served as a revenue-producing real-estate investment.

Now the Campaign for the Archives of the Episcopal Church is “ready to launch,” said Tara Holley, director of development. She told the council that systems are in place to begin the quiet phase of a $10 million campaign.

Council Doubles Housing Allowance

In other news, a larger tax break is on the way for the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, after an Executive Council vote June 10.

Matthews, Bishop of the Office of Pastoral Development, will see his housing allowance nearly double for 2016, from $35,000 to $64,225. The increased allowance level, transferred from his salary, will cover average monthly housing expenses of $5,352.

Unlike income from salary, housing allowance for clergy is eligible for a tax break. Under the Internal Revenue Service tax code, clergy may pay a reduced income tax rate on the portion of their earnings that covers housing expenses. These expenses may include mortgage or rent payments, and costs for utilities and furnishings.

The clergy housing tax benefit dates to an act of Congress in 1954. It is currently being challenged in federal court under a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which argues that the benefit is unconstitutional.