By Jamie Hook
Jamie Hook is a filmmaker, writer, and community engineer. He writes about development and other community issues in a variety of local papers and lives above Peter Pan Donuts in Downtown Greenpoint.
It may not be the old Penn Station, but it will still hurt to see McGolrick Park’s Park Church torn down and replaced with condominiums—a process which was all-but-inevitably set in motion by the controversial sale of the 100 year old church earlier this year. More on that, and what you can do to protest this foolishness, later. First, the facts.
The Park Church is the modern name for the century-old English Lutheran Church of the Messiah (ECLM), a smallish stone-built church fronting onto the former Winthrop Park, now McGolrick Park on the east side of Greenpoint.
Originally built, as its name implies, to offer English Language services to a newly-settled German immigrant population, the church joined a neighborhood already dense with them. Indeed, its proximity to the neighborhood’s other Lutheran church, the still-in-operation St. Johns Lutheran Church on Milton Street, imposed an easy-to-remember nickname on the ELCM: the “Park Church,”
A hundred years later, facing a catastrophic decline in congregants, and attempting to redefine and bolster the church’s connection to the community, the church was officially renamed “Park Church Co-op,” and tasked with opening up its doors to the community under a new pastor, the Reverend Amy Kienzle.
For the better part of a decade, the Park Church Co-op served as space-of-last-resort to all manner of modest, misfit, and startup organizations. From the dance-parties of No Lights No Lycra, to concerts by AdHoc and others, to the early iterations of Drag Queen Story Hour, to the homeless services provided by Breaking Ground, to the innumerable daycares and playgroups occupying the church’s basement community space, the Park Church was a beacon of community activity for a neighborhood reeling from the pressures of rent inflation and gentrification.
Yet the church, unsurprisingly, could not grow its congregation sufficiently to earn its keep, and after much pressure, threat, reprieve and even sabotage by the church’s overlords (The Metropolitan New York Synod or MNYS, an ecumenical holding company-cum-developer which inherited the church sometime in the early 2000s), the Park Church reached its last final lifeline last June. The MNYS shuttered the building and listed it with a high-end broker specializing in luxury real estate. After a few offers, the church sold to a developer for a rumored $3.7M earlier this year. Plans are to tear the church down to make way for condos.
As with so many stories set in the fanged world of NYC real estate, this one is ripe with innuendo and intrigue. Paramount among the issues is that the Church’s owner, the MNYS, for all intents and purposes appears to be simply flipping a church for profit: a once-proud Ecclesiastic institution transformed into a speculative developer, seduced by the lure of easy money—just like Goethe’s Faust.
The legitimate issue is this: the property now for sale was apparently conveyed (i.e. donated) to the Synod for “Synodical Administration” earlier this century, as the original church faced dwindling returns. We may presume that there was a “deed of covenant” generated in the sale, as is customary with such transactions, which provides restrictions as to what the MNYS can do with their windfall property. Whether or not the MNYS has done right by this deed of covenant is a serious point of contention, with profound impacts.
As recently as last year, the MNYS was giving lip-service to the notion of supporting the extra-curricular efforts of the Park Church. Moreover, the congregation itself was convinced that the MNYS’s support was on a longer-term timeline. So to say that the quickness of the sale came as a shock is an understatement. That the successful community programs that had taken root and flowered at the Park Church over the last ten years are now being thrown out with the bathwater only adds shade to an already murky deal. Plus, the MNYS’s track record with similar properties across the region only adds to the appearance of greed—one of the seven deadly sins, in case you’d forgotten.
There is also the added insult of what will now take the place of the Park Church—which, it is worth noting, is the only church on a park in all of North Brooklyn. As of right, the structure that replaces it can ascend to 75 feet, double what is currently there. As a lot on the west side of the park, a 75’ building would cast quite the shadow. Then, there are the added possibilities of a savvy developer packaging some occult combo of air rights and inclusionary housing to go up even higher, making the worst-case scenario downright vulgar.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END, OR THE END OF THE BEGINNING?
And yet, all hope is not lost. There remains a glimmer of a chance for the community to change this unfortunate and short-sighted plan.
As a non-profit venue, the proposed sale is currently subject to the approval of the Attorney General, whose tools include recommending a sale for “court administration,” due to outlying (i.e Community) concerns. And while the hope to affect the legal outcome of such a sale is slim-to-nil, it is well-documented that coordinated public outcry can often scare away vulture developers, whose interests tend towards the quick and easy. A current initiative is collecting signatures to do just that.
And if such were to succeed, what then?
Well, that depends on the community. Certainly, there are many examples of thriving, profitable community centers operating out of deconsecrated churches across the nation and around the world. To say that Greenpoint would be rich soil for such a conversion is an understatement: More like the ‘hood would go bananas for such a place. After all, It kinda already did.
Those interested in joining community efforts to persuade the MNYS and the Attorney General to redirect this sale are encouraged to see commonplace.nyc for more information, and a chance to sign our petition.
Op-eds are submitted by community members and do not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Greenpointers staff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to publish your opinion.
Tearing this church down is a criminal. If the only solution for developers to recoup their funds is to rehab the church, it should stay as it is – as has happened in Williamsburg where churches, sadly, have become condos but retained their exterior. Central Greenpoint is not the place for contemporary architecture. As much as any of us might like or respect the clean look of the modern, this is an historic neighborhood. If there is a way of turning the church into a community center, an arts center, a performance space, an exhibition space, and/or a gallery while maintaining the architectural integrity of the McGolrick Park landscape, we do hope that the community will rise to the occasion. Absolutely count us in.
Money always wins . My neighbors on Apollo st initially tried to stop the new homeless shelter there . They don’t understand that the astronomical $ changing hands guarantees it’s completion as does the church’s demise and co-op erecting .
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