Friend or foe: Saving a church or destroying a historical landmark?
West-Park Presbyterian Church, located at 165 West 86th Street on the corner of Amsterdam Ave, has decided to appeal the landmark designation of its 140-year-old church in order to sell the site to a developer — which plans to raze the church and construct an apartment building, according to a breaking report from Commercial Observer.
This historic landmark has certainly seen better days, as the 12-member congregation would need to spend $50 million to bring the crumbling building back to life, or at least back to a state of functionality. Instead of restoring the building, the church found an alternative option: partner with Alchemy Properties to demolish the building BUT with a contingency. Of course, a new apartment building would be erected, but Alchemy Properties also would guarantee a 10,000 square foot worship space so the church could continue to function.
READ MORE: Tenant of Landmarked Church Fights to Keep it Alive
On the surface, the plan seems promising. However, red tape complicates matters (classic New York City). In 2010, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission designated the building a historical landmark, so the church can’t simply sell to the first interested buyer. Ideally, the church would save the landmark, but they have absolutely zero resources left to fix or even maintain the structure.
If sold to Alchemy, the church would stand to make $8.8 million in addition to the purchase price. Alchemy has not released any statements on its development plans.
New York City certainly takes pride in its historical landmarks and the Landmark Preservation Commission tries to be mindful of the efforts and costs it takes to maintain these buildings. The Landmark Law does have a hardship provision for extreme cases, but this is very uncommon. Since 1965, when it was created, there were only 19 hardship applications where 13 were approved, 4 denied, and 2 did not reach a decision. Even before the church can submit a hardship application, there needs to be a public hearing as well as approval from Manhattan Community Board 7.
It will be a battle between the church and the Landmark Preservation Commission to see what happens next. The church has a deep history, not just on the Upper West Side, but in New York City more broadly, as the building is highly regarded as one of the finest examples of Romanesque Revival-style religious buildings in the city.
While the church is no longer what it once was with a crumbling building and a nearly extinct congregation, the question remains: “Can you put a price tag on history?” Does New York City need another apartment complex, or is there another way to save this historic piece of the Upper West Side?
We reached out to West-Park Presbyterian Church and a representative provided us with the following statement:
“In the face of our steep financial challenges to address the church building’s safety and maintenance needs, the congregation’s only viable choice to support West-Park’s ongoing mission is to pursue the sale of the property and the application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish the existing building on the grounds of financial hardship. This plan ensures a new spiritual home for worship and community space that will help West-Park continue to be a resource for our neighborhood and fellow New Yorkers.”
My feeling: tear it down. It’s already undergoing “demolition through neglect,” as they say, and surely after all these years it’s time to recognize that preservation is a lost cause. “Does New York City need another apartment complex?” Yes! We absolutely do need more apartment buildings, real ones for actual working New Yorkers, instead of more hotels and more safe deposit boxes in the sky for Russian oligarchs.