NEW YORK — The fate of a more than 100-year-old church on the Upper West Side hangs in the balance amid a debate over its landmark status.
West Park Presbyterian Church officials are urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to strip it of landmark status, but others want it preserved, CBS2’s Leah Mishkin reported Thursday.
The primary tenant and manager of the church on West 86th Street is The Center at West Park, a performing arts nonprofit.
“It has been a place where social relevance has just exploded,” said the nonprofit’s Susan E. Sullivan.
“It was one of the first churches in New York City to welcome the LGBTQ community in the middle of the AIDS crisis,” said Roger Leaf, chair of West Park Presbyterian Church.
The building was given landmark status in 2010. Church officials opposed the decision because there wasn’t enough money to restore it, they said. Leaf, overseeing the plan for the church, said it will cost about $50 million now, but it gets more expensive to maintain every year.
“There was an offer to buy the church at one point. It was really not considered realistic given the low cost of the offer. At one point, the center had offered to buy the air rights from the church for $2 million. But that $2 million wouldn’t have begun to pay for the restoration costs that are needed, even on the facade,” Leaf said.
The Center at West Park made that offer. Sullivan believes they can get repairs done for $10 million.
“If they will sell it to us so it becomes no longer a religious institution and we can get state funding, and federal funding,” Sullivan said.
“The only choice that we saw that provided any kind of way for the congregation to survive was to pursue a plan where we could get brand new space and enough funding to reenergize the congregation,” said Leaf.
The church says the congregation has dwindled to just about a handful of members.
“It lost its pastor in 2017 because it could no longer afford to pay a salary,” Leaf said.
The church wants to sell to a developer that will build a new community arts and worship space inside a new building, which would only be possible if the current landmark status is changed.
“Really, I guess, shocking to have such disregard for a landmark,” Sullivan said.
So what happens next? Community boards will meet to debate the topic, then give their recommendations to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which will ultimately decide the church’s fate.