Fat chance the church will prevail on this, another leftover from the Potato Head Regime ...
St. Nick's vs. the PA
By STEVE CUOZZO
December 26, 2010
The ugly dispute between the Port Authority and the Greek Orthodox Archdio cese over rebuilding St. Nicholas' Church, destroyed on 9/11, threatens to throw progress at the entire World Trade Center site into chaos -- and the church has mainly itself to blame.
The archdiocese insists on having a new church at 130 Liberty St., where the old Deutsche Bank building is being demolished. The PA wants it at the original church site -- 155 Cedar St., 100 yards to the southwest. The church now plans a suit to force the PA to build at 130 Liberty and accuses the PA of "fraud" in breaking a "binding" agreement for the location.
In fact, no signed agreement was ever reached -- mainly because of the archdiocese's ever-escalating demands.
But a court ruling against the PA could force it to redesign an underground Vehicle Screening Center planned beneath 130 Liberty St. That's because steel the PA has ordered for the VSC couldn't support the church above it -- a structure three times larger than the original.
Re-tooling the VSC would push back by at least another year the already delayed openings of the first two office towers (now set for 2013) and possibly of the Memorial Museum (2011). Why? The VSC will be the security checkpoint for vehicles making deliveries to anywhere on the WTC site. Trucks -- and possibly cars and buses -- couldn't enter without it.
Moreover, the VSC will link to all of the site's notoriously interlocked infrastructure elements. Altering the current design of the steel "cage" would calamitously impact underground work now in progress by the PA and developer Larry Silverstein.
No one wants to deny St. Nicholas' parishioners a new place to worship, but it ought to have been at 155 Cedar St. But then-Gov. George Pataki instead foolishly persuaded the PA and the archdiocese to put it on Liberty Street, inside a new public park nearer to the WTC site.
The new St. Nicholas would also be bigger. The old, tiny church served fewer than 100 families. Its proposed replacement embraced the gigantism Pataki endorsed for other WTC-area features unrelated to the task of replenishing 14 million square feet of office space -- peripherals such as the new PATH terminal and the MTA's Fulton St. Transit Center.
The grandiose church planned at 130 Liberty St. was described by The New York Times in July 2008 as a "domed marble complex" six times larger than the original. The PA was able to have it reduced from a proposed footprint of 6,800 square feet to a "mere" 4,000 square feet, compared with the original's 1,200.
The PA and the church would have traded rights to the sites. The two sides spent four years trying and failing to nail down terms of the land swap and how much money the PA would put into church construction.
For all its infamously sluggish bureaucracy, the PA bent over backward to satisfy the archdiocese. So did JP Morgan Chase, which in 2007 wanted to build an office tower on Liberty Street. To accommodate the church, it devised a "beer-belly" tower, with trading floors cantilevered over the 130 Liberty site.
The archdiocese didn't complain about that plan, which was later dropped. But it did object to any future cantilever in March 2009, when it also upped the ante on other issues that the PA thought had been resolved. Among them, it wanted:
* The church to stand 20 feet taller than the Memorial Museum Pavilion -- a request the PA had previously rejected.
* Unconditional, all-at-once access to $20 million the PA had pledged for construction, rather than on a staged basis subject to completing the land-swap and awarding of job contracts.
* The right to review the VSC plans and to have "approval" over any future changes to the facility -- absurd, given that security is the business of the PA and the NYPD.
* Incredibly, rights to use the surrounding park for its own events and a say in how the park might be otherwise used.
The archdiocese now claims it was merely asking to protect its interests. Given the PA's prior record of delay, that sounds reasonable. But sources not affiliated with the PA said that once the sides began trying to draw up an actual contract in 2008, the archdiocese was "incredibly aggressive" and repeatedly added new conditions.
That left PA executive director Christopher Ward, who had to sort out loose ends left by his predecessors, in a pickle. By 2009, he had to order steel for the VSC to break the rebuilding paralysis, as well as to protect the PA from further liability for not finishing the infrastructure. (It's had to pay Silverstein huge sums for missing deadlines.)
But no final agreement was in sight. Enough steel to support the church if a deal was ever struck would have cost the PA $20 million on top of the $20 million it had already committed -- a risk it couldn't afford. So Ward decided he had no choice but to get the ball rolling on the VSC immediately.
Now, the church, having overplayed its hand, has flashed the lawsuit threat as its supposed trump card. It's probably out of luck getting 130 Liberty St. back -- but no court outcome is certain. For the sake of seeing a new World Trade Center, let's pray that reason prevails.
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