By Bobby Panza
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) met on Tuesday to discuss the findings of two independent consultants about the condition, cost, and feasibility of restoring West-Park Presbyterian Church, the 133-year-old, red sandstone building on the corner of West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Described as “one of the Upper West Side’s most important buildings” by the LPC, it was landmarked in 2010, despite opposition from Church representatives about the state of disrepair it was in. It has been surrounded by a sidewalk shed for 22 years.
There were two important takeaways from the October 31 LPC meeting.
(1) In June 2022, the church’s 12-member congregation filed a “hardship application,” claiming that they could not afford to repair and carry the church any longer, asking the LPC to de-landmark it so they could sell it, for $33 million, to a real estate developer who planned to demolish it and replace it with a luxury condominium. Their team of lawyers, engineers, and accountants set the cost of restoring the church at $50 million, then, dropped it to $26 million.
At the meeting, Donald Friedman, of Old Structures Engineering PC, the structural engineering firm hired by the LPC, said, “My cost for immediate safety work [in order to take the sidewalk shed down]…is, roughly, $1,700,000. “My cost for the entire project, if you include the stained glass windows, gets up to a little over $9 million over five to 10 years.” (The full report is here.)
“The applicant/developer wanted to create the false impression that this precious landmark building is a lost cause,” said Michael Hiller, the Center’s attorney, by email to the Rag. “Well, it’s not a lost cause. And now the Commission knows it.”
(2) Even if it weren’t a landmark, the church cannot be demolished at this point in time, because it is tied up in court in a lease disagreement with its tenant, the Center at West Park, a nonprofit community-arts organization that is fighting to save the building. “In 2018, the church entered into a five-year lease with the Center to operate the property, with an option for an additional five-year term, which the Center exercised in February 2022,” said Mark Silberman, deputy counsel for the LPC. “Depending on the outcome of the litigation [the church] might not be able to be demolished until around 2028.”
There was also a lot of talk about whether the church could yield the 6% return on investment required by the commission if the renovations were done. The church says no, and an independent appraiser seemed to agree with him. Hiller called the appraiser, hired by the commission, “inexperienced in terms of historic buildings” and “incompetent,” pointing out that “other community facility properties throughout the Upper West Side generate upwards of twice that amount.”
Following the meeting, a spokesperson for West Park Presbyterian Church told West Side Rag in an e-mail, “While we are still reviewing the details of the studies commissioned by the LPC, we appreciate that the independent review of our hardship application confirms the studies and analysis we presented. Our congregation remains focused on ensuring a path forward to create a safe, modern worship space in the Upper West Side where we can gather and invite our neighbors to celebrate arts and culture in our community.”
No public testimony was allowed during the October 31 meeting, but the public can submit comments for the record until November 14 by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently, the next meeting in this never-ending saga has not been scheduled.
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