New York church congregation prefers demo to historic status

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The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering the fate of a 133-year-old church building in Manhattan that apparently only attracted investors interested in the land below rather than any attempt to preserve the structure.

In a presentation submitted by the remaining members of the West-Park Presbyterian Church congregation and a potential redeveloper, the proponents state, “No other places of worship have expressed interest in acquiring the building and assume responsibility for restoration and repair”.

That same presentation states that “so far in 2022, the church has spent approximately $70,000 to complete urgent repairs” mandated by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB).

The applicant’s team for the demolition and redevelopment project includes the current chairman of the church administration and representatives from Alchemy Properties and FXCollaborative Architects, both based in New York.

In its presentation to the Landmarks Commission, the promoters of the project clearly state: “The prospective purchaser [is seeking] an application for a demolition permit [and] intends, in good faith, either to immediately demolish such improvement for the purpose of constructing on the site thereof with reasonable promptness a new building or other facility.

The presentation recognizes the church building 19e heirloom of the century, but argues for the plot to return to the city’s proper tax rolls and portrays the congregation as dwindling in numbers and unable to find a preservation-minded buyer.

Regarding the viability of the church, the presentation slides state that a “once vibrant congregation has grown from over 200 members in the 1980s to about a dozen today,” and that the church does not hasn’t had a full-time pastor since 2017.

In terms of preservation attempts, the backers of the demolition and redevelopment project say, “Since 2013, the church has spent over $1 million to maintain the building, spending all of its financial resources. The church has spent all of its financial resources to maintain the building and currently relies on loans from the New York Rectory to cover operating expenses and repair costs.

Noting that an arts center has been a recent tenant of the church’s property, Alchemy Properties says that, “subject to the issuance of a demolition permit,” it will provide the church with 10,000 square feet of space for “worship, community activities and arts programs.”

Some of the group’s proposals concern the renovation of existing spaces or structural works. However, the funders of the project also state: “A reasonable return, as defined [in the New York administrative code]cannot be achieved in any of the [renovation] scenarios.

A building layout proposed by Alchemy and FXCollaborative is described as a multi-story mixed-use building with arts and community, commercial and retail spaces on the ground floor and apartments above.

An online feature article on New York society West Side Cloth delves into the history of the building’s landmark status and its impact on urban planning and demolition activity. The author of the article, Carol Tannenhauser, writes that the New York Landmarks Commission “is not used to dealing with this kind of situation; its mission is to save historic structures, not to issue their death sentences.

Nevertheless, this commission is expected to examine the proposal and issue a decision in September.

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