park west manhattan
Members of the landmark church say since 2013 they have spent more than $1 million to maintain the building, expending available financial resources.
Photo courtesy of West Side Rag

NYC church congregation prefers demo over landmark status

Remaining congregants of Presbyterian church in Manhattan see no financially viable future for 133-year-old church.

August 23, 2022

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

In a presentation submitted by remaining West-Park Presbyterian Church congregation members and a potential redeveloper, the proposal’s authors state, “No other house of worship has expressed interest in acquiring the building and taking on the responsibility for restoration and repair.”

That same presentation indicates that “so far in 2022, the church has spent about $70,000 to address urgent repairs” mandated by New York’s Department of Buildings (DOB).

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

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

The presentation acknowledges the church building’s 19th century heritage, but makes a case for the parcel returning to the city’s proper tax roles and portrays the congregation as dwindling in numbers and having been unable to find a preservationist-minded buyer.

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

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

Noting an arts center has been a recent tenant at the church property, Alchemy Properties says that, “contingent on 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 involve the renovation of existing space or building shells. However, the project’s backers also state, “A reasonable return, as defined [in the New York administrative code], cannot be achieved in any of the [renovation] scenarios.”

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

A report from New York-based West Side Rag delves into the history of building landmark status and its impact on urban planning and demolition activity. Carol Tannenhauser writes that the New York Landmarks Commission “is not used to sorting out this sort of situation; its mission is to save historic structures, not issue their death sentences.”

Nonetheless, that commission is expected to examine the proposal and issue a ruling in September.