SHAARE ZEDEK GETS FINAL COURT APPROVAL TO SELL 94-YEAR-OLD SYNAGOGUE, WHICH WILL BE DEMOLISHED

A State Supreme Court judge granted Congregation Shaare Zedek’s request to sell its synagogue at 212 West 93rd Street, clearing the way for the building to be demolished and redeveloped. The building was constructed in the early 1920’s and dedicated in 1923.

“This was the final approval necessary to proceed with closing the real estate transaction, and it is a tremendous milestone for our community,” wrote Synagogue President Michael Firestone in a note to congregants. The ground lease will reportedly be sold to developer Ornstein Leyton for at least $34.3 million.

The new building is expected to rise 14 stories and include three stories for Shaare Zedek at the bottom. The synagogue’s leaders said they had to sell in order to keep up with expenses and keep the congregation vibrant.

The plan has been opposed by neighbors, but their attempts to get the synagogue landmark protection failed. Opponents from the West Nineties Neighborhood Coalition (WNNC) asked the court to stop the sale, and demand that the synagogue provide more documentation.

Members of the group raised concerns that the synagogue had not effectively marketed the property for sale and was selling at a below-market price after apparently rejecting offers from other religious organizations. The synagogue noted that the offers from other religious organizations were “not substantial enough to be viable or constitute a qualified bid.” A memorandum laying out opponents’ concerns was filed with the court. Members of the group are shown in a picture from the courthouse below. It was sent by group member Ronna Blaser.

The congregation, established in 1837 by Polish immigrants, expects to celebrate the High Holidays at the current building and then leave after Yom Kippur, holding a farewell celebration on September 10. It will hold services at the Franciscan Center on West 97th Street during the construction.

HISTORY, NEWS | 54 comments | permalink
    1. Paul says:

      Everyone wants to landmark fancy religious buildings except the people who have to maintain them.

    2. Eric says:

      Perhaps the congregation would like to hold its farewell party on the grounds of Bayside Cemetery which, for years and years, it failed to maintain with disastrous results. By misusing funds that, under NYS law, should have been dedicated to the cemetery’s upkeep and security (NOT for the maintenance of it’s building) graves and mausoleums were left to be overrun by nature and made easy prey to ghoulish desecrations.

      It is a disgrace that no mention has been made of creating a fund so that Bayside will be properly restored, secured, and maintained in perpetuity.

      Instead the congregation’s has turned a blind eye and continues to ignore its decades of horrific disregard and abysmal stewardship.

      • Eric says:

        IMPORTANT UPDATE:

        I have learned from a source connected to the synagogue that as part of the sale a substantial fund will be set up to address the situation at Bayside Cemetery. This is wonderful, wonderful news and I feel the current Shaare Zedek leadership should be applauded for taking this opportunity to help rectify the situation.

        • Jay N. Gee says:

          Many thanks for the clarification, Eric. Perhaps you and Sean Spicer can go into the truth-mongering business…
          Do you have precise documentation giving both chapter and verse of SZ “misusing funds?”

          Trust me — NO blind eyes were turned. In fact, one of the prime motivators of this sale was to create a viable and sustainable method by which Bayside be fixed up and maintained.
          Furthermore the building is not even close to being ADA compliant which has become a serious issue for an aging congregation (and one that has lots of kids and strollers, too…)

          Incidentally, the mere act of typing “IMPORTANT UPDATE” does not absolve you from spreading serious falsehoods about something I’m guessing you know very little about. [And nary an apology from you either… ]
          Do you actually live on the block? Are you worried about a blocked view? Are you a native of NYC and the UWS lamenting about the good old days?
          See — I know nothing about you, but it’s my soapbox now and I can holler all I want..

          I am a longtime member of SZ for over 25 years.
          And a native born UWSider who still lives here.
          This construction is a welcome development that will help a lot of people.
          And this decision was not made lightly. I am very fond of the building interior and the acoustics.
          But it has simply outlived it’s usefulness many ways, and the congregation should be celebrated for doing it’s level best to keep it’s doors open to anyone and everyone who wishes to be involved — to what ever degree– in the vibrant Jewish community of the upper west side.

          • Eric says:

            Jay, while I am not a member of SZ I have been painfully aware of the congregation’s difficulties for decades and have always been a vocal supporter of SZ’s right to do what it needs to do to sustain itself and Bayside. As I wrote SZ’s very gracious and articulate president, I fully understand and appreciate how vexing and draining (both emotionally and fiscally) the years of litigation have been for the congregation and its leadership just as I know you would appreciate how stressful it is to spend three full days with tree saws and hedge cutters simply to be able to pray before my great-grandfather’s headstone.

            As wrenching as the decision to sell the building must have been, it is only a material thing and I support and admire the hard choice made to focus on humans and yiddishkeit and to help the congregation thrive while still working with the NY AG to create a proper outcome for Bayside.

            With respect to documentation, chapter, and verse there has been a trove of information revealed by and connected to the Lucker litigation (which I hasten to add I am NOT in any way a party to) although I will not burden this space with any of it. For what it is worth, I do not live on the block, am not worried about a blocked view (none of us own our views though some wish they did), am a native of NYC and the UWS, and feel that there is way too much lamenting about the ‘good old days’ holding the UWS back.

      • B.B. says:

        Cannot nor will not comment about Congregation Shaare Zedek and Arcadia-Bayside cemetery.

        What is publically known pretty much is summed up here:

        http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/bayside-cemetery-spruced-up-but-many-questions-linger/

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flmvo32Ze7c

        Considering the long (and IIRC still ongoing) litigation between CAJAC and Congregation Shaare Zedek over Bayside cemetery, the former most certainly is watching how this sale/redevelopment of synagogue plays out.

    3. Alan Flacks says:

      Oh, well, “Baruch Ashem.” You know, it’s hard to stop things. (I want Broadway to be turned into a mall with trolley cars down the middle and a cow path alongside and parkland and benches for strollers, what?) Was it Sandy Wilson’s song from “The Boyfriend” that went something like this: “The modern buildings of today are often quite alarming, but when it comes to style and grace, a ruin [actually referring to the age of the speaker] can be charming!”

      • UWSHebrew says:

        it’s “Baruch Hashem”. Not “Ashem”. 🙂

        • Cato says:

          Oh, for Heaven’s sake.

          Maybe he comes from Liverpool and has a Cockney inflection. What difference does it make?

          Talk about “holier than thou”…..

          • UWSHebrew says:

            Cato, you know zero about how to pronounce Hebrew words, it’s like saying “ouch” instead of “couch”, so take your snide critique somewhere else, because this is not your area, at all.

            • Phoebe says:

              Eh.
              I mean, Heh;)

            • Cato says:

              Such hutzpah! (Or is that “chutzpah”?)

              Actually, Chaver (or is that “Haver”?), it’s about the transliteration of a foreign word originally rendered in a foreign alphabet, not “how to pronounce Hebrew words”. We can debate the pronunciation of a native word in our native English (or Latin) alphabet (is it “doo-FUS” or “DOO-fus”?), but that’s a wholly different exercise.

              And, besides, what makes you think you’re the only one who knows anything about Hebrew? (PS: You’re not!)

              Shalom! (Or is that “Sholom”??)

          • UWSHebrew says:

            You’re so quick to mock and babble because you like hearing yourself. Just listen. The “H” in “Hashem” stands for “The”. So, if you state “Baruch Ashem”, it translates to “Bless Name”, which is incoherent. The proper “Baruch Hashem”, translated to “Bless The Name”. — Just because you read the NY Times and eat bagels and lox on the weekend, does not make you an authority on anything Jewish. Stick to knocking Trump, stay away from the Jewish stuff, it’s not for you.

    4. robert says:

      And the same result willing coming in weeks, if not days re 200 Amsterdam. I did a little digging and their permits have not been cxl at all, they are being “held in ambience until such time as documents are amended as requested”. In other words DOB has NO problem with the permits, they are doing the dog and pony show for the benefit of our local elected and self appointed community leaders. As it is an election year and all city agencies want to be in good with the council. They will receive the new paperwork, maybe even make the show of a community meeting/hearing and then stamp them approved.

      • Jen says:

        And your point is? Gloating for no reason other than saying “Don’t ever try to change things and troll away like I do?”

        • robert says:

          I was in no way gloating, just stating facts. Once permits are issued it is a done deal, most buildings are done in what is called as of right, and not requiring an waivers/variances. Rather than fight every developer that comes to the UWS, losing every time and getting nothing. Perhaps talking to them might get better results, maybe to access to their health club for area seniors.
          This can and has been done. The lot that the Columbia was built on in 1983 had a garden on it that had no approval and/or permit. When the building went up the gardeners talked with the developer.Today they still take care of a large garden that covers the entire roof of the public garage. Which by the way they agreed to make so instead of being just for the building.

      • Ken says:

        ” “held in ambience…”? presumably a soothing, comforting ambience…

    5. CJ says:

      After denying at a meeting of Community Board 7 Preservation Committee that it had received any offers from other synagogues for the property, Shaare Zedek’s lawyers finally admitted at 11:59 p.m., on the eve of yesterday’s court hearing, that Shaare Zedek had received an initial offer of $20 million in cash from Romenu.

      The congregation misled the community and misled its members. The destruction of the synagogue should not go forward.

      • your neighbor says:

        I don’t know what this Romenu thing is but $20 million from them vs “at least $34 million” from the accepted bidder is a pretty wide chasm and anybody with fidicuary responsibility for the organization would be right to reject that offer.

        Did these Romenu people even offer to build th synagogue a new place like the high bidder did?

        • Michael says:

          Romenu is a synagogue. It is not a thing or a people. Please google before displaying ignorance.

          https://www.romemu.org

          • Cato says:

            “Romenu is a synagogue. *** Please google before displaying ignorance.”

            I *love* this! As already pointed out — and as you yourself should have known from the URL you yourself posted — it’s “RomeMu”, not “Romenu”.

            And, by the way, it’s “Google”, with a capital “G”, not “google”.

            So, please, get your own house in order before you attack others for trivialities.

        • OhHonestly says:

          If Romemu [not Romenu] (a Jewish congregation that rents spaces in the UWS) was offering $20m in cash, they weren’t going to be doing so alone. They simply don’t have that kind of cash or congregants with it to put up. They would have been going in with a developer as well.

          • your neighbor says:

            It doesn’t really matter.
            The current owners are getting 70% more than Romemu’s offer, getting a synagogue built for them, and since it is a ground lease – in 49 years or 99 years (or whatever the lease term is) ShaareZedek still owns the land and they’ll also own the 14 story building to do with as they please.

            • B.B. says:

              Don’t think that is quite correct.

              According to media reports Shaare Zedek is selling their property (the building/improvements to land) to Ornstein Leyton. The latter is also “taking over” the ground lease.

              Shaare Zedek never owned the land beneath the building and it is up to that “landlord” to decide if it wants to sell or just allow someone else to assume remainder of the lease.

              Details are spelled out in the court filings. More will emerge as the development moves forward and the official offering prospectus is made for the condos supposedly going up on this site. If there is still a ground lease that fact must be disclosed to potential buyers.

              https://www.westsiderag.com/2017/07/09/permits-filed-to-replace-93-year-old-synagogue-with-new-condo-building

          • Michael says:

            1- Cato – You have been flamed enough and I will not join all the others. my point is well made.You got my point,caps, spellings and all. my old i-phone (3g!) key board is small and so is your point

            2- OhHonestly -The business model is very obviously different between the two offers. the offer is slightly more than half.there are a number of UWS congregations that have built facilities on donations and borrowed funds without overbuilds. the land itself is the security for the mortgage. nearby, BJ has substantially rehabilitated its historic sanctuary and purchased the Heschel school building for about the same amount.

            Now, let’s talk about St. Gregory the Great! That is a building with history.

            • B.B. says:

              @Michael

              Shaare Zedek did not own the land, which was part of the issue as to why they needed someone with “deep pockets”. Only assets they have is the building. No bank or anyone else is going lend them (or anyone else) money on a structure that by nature of deal is going to be torn down.

              Now if they had owned the land things may have been very different. Shaare Zedek likely would have gotten much more cash upfront.

          • UWSder says:

            The 20 million from Romemu was real. It was not with a developer. It was made well before this latest developer was on the scene but the leadership chose not to present it to the congregation. It was a shonda that they chose not to be honest about this.

            Dying synagogue communities have come back to life in the past. BJ was on its deathbed with 50 families when Marshall Meyer was brought in. Could lighting strike again with SZ and its new Rabbi? Maybe. But the old school conservative practice that has been part of the downfall of SZ is more responsible for its death than lack of funds.

    6. Patricia Gilman says:

      Sad

    7. Tom Lee says:

      Why would people oppose this?

      The congregation is stating that it can no longer afford to keep the building.

      NYC will now likely be able to collect real estate income from this land.

      Added residents to the area will help nearby businesses.

      The congregation will still maintain a presence in the community.

      Short-term construction jobs will be created.

      Long-term building maintenance will be created.

      • EricaC says:

        All may be true, but I’m still sad – it is a beautiful building. But it isn’t mine, and I do not have the right to stop them – and I suspect they know better than I what they want to do with their property. I hope the thing that is built is a good addition to the neighborhood.

        • B.B. says:

          While the façade *may* be interesting sides and back of this building are plain old simple brick, nothing to get very excited about.

          The interior while very grand and whatever, still does not rise to landmark worthy status. I mean if the former Rizzoli bookstore’s interiors didn’t get a nod from LPC, then cannot see how Congregation Shaare Zedek’s would remotely make that cut.

          Know the Catholic church has at least one storage warehouse where certain things from demolished properties are stored. Maybe someone will step in and purchase the stained glass windows and other bits of Congregation Shaare Zedek’s building before it is torn down. That and or things will be donated.

    8. Neal says:

      same old

    9. Kenneth says:

      It’s not clear – Is the land being sold to the developer or is the ground lease being transferred by the landowner to the developer? If a transfer – who is the landowner?

    10. Frank says:

      Great news! Our neighborhood needs more housing and it’s great to see this unmanageable building is being replaced by something a bit more pragmatic.

      Lets hope we can move forward on 200 Amsterdam soon and start building the housing our community needs.

      • Mark says:

        affordable housing?

        • Frank says:

          We need affordable housing to be sure. But we also need more apartments for middle class New Yorkers. Everyone is suffering. We need to lower what “market rate” is for the middle class that is the vast majority of occupants on the UWS. A couple with a combined income of $200,000 should be able to find a nice place to live up here and not have to spend a large portion of their income to do it. We can only lower rent prices across the board by building more units.

    11. sam says:

      Why can’t they build on top of it? What a sin to destroy a place of worship.

      • B.B. says:

        IIRC from previous debates surrounding Congregation Shaare Zedek the current building besides needing much work no longer suits their needs. By that one means like many religious congregations that huge building is too big for their modern purposes. The façade also is not ADA compliant and those changes would need to be made if any major construction takes place.

        I’ll say this again for hopefully the last time; all over New York as the western world over populations are becoming more secular. As such those huge barns of religious buildings built in eras of large families and huge attendance figures often sit empty. Worse many are decades if not hundreds of years old and require major structural work. Where is the money going to come from?

        Sadly don’t see a reversal in this trend in foreseeable future. As such look for more and more houses of worship to be closed, sold, or whatever.

        Again using my favourite example; West Park Presbyterian church. That hulk of a building was “saved”, and yet still sits slowly decaying and crumbling for want of the tens of millions required to fix it up.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        “We hit the deer and his paw — What do you call that?” “The paw?” “The paw, the…” “The foot.” “The hoof.” “Yeah, the hoof got caught in the grill and I gotta, I gotta hack it off.” “Ooh.” “Ah, Ma, it’s a sin, I can’t leave it there, you know.”

      • Jay N. Gee says:

        That option was looked into early and often, but the building above would have been rather small (as far as these things go), and the major support beams would have basically been standing in the middle of the sanctuary…

      • OhHonestly says:

        The facade would need to be made ADA compliant, which isn’t possible. I imagine it also would need a new foundation to hold a heavier structure.

        Also, the current set-up doesn’t reflect the needs of a modern congregation. It has a gigantic sanctuary with very limited space for social events and learning.

        Not to mention, Jews don’t do the whole “consecrated grounds” thing that other religions do. Once the torahs are out (and arguably the mezuzot are taken down), it is simply a series of rooms.

    12. B.B. says:

      As one stated previously, Congregation Shaare Zedek isn’t the only religious organization selling up. Just today the Roman Catholic archdiocese made an announcement that at least twelve churches will be “deconsecrated” so the land can be used for “profane” purposes.

      It doesn’t get more profane than real estate development.

      https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170726/east-village/catholic-church-archdiocese-real-estate-sales

    13. merrill lichtenfeld says:

      wonder who on the board is in the construction business !!

    14. merrill lichtenfeld says:

      wonder who on the board is in the construction business !!and if I have said it before it deserves to be repeated !!!!

      • OhHonestly says:

        Just doesn’t bear using correct punctuation or capitalization?

        Also, the response to your random speculation is…none of them.

    15. Peter Brandt says:

      The classic stone work on the facade is so beautiful, can’t the developer include the facade in its new design ?

    16. Sarah K Jacobs says:

      I just hope that the wonderful stained glass window of Mount Sinai is saved in the reconfiguration of the synagogue.

    17. Barbara Litt says:

      Having been married there and as a former member, I am saddened to see the building torn down. However, I realize that to continue being a congregation, the funds are vital. Baruch Hashem…