St. John the Divine Campus Could be Landmarked in Deal With CB 9

By Jeff Mays on January 17, 2014 11:08am 

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 The development will feature more than 400 apartment units. 
St. John the Divine Apartment Building
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HARLEM—The Cathedral of St. John the Divine could finally gain landmark status under a deal between the church, Community Board 9 and the developers of a new 14-story building set to be built alongside the cathedral.

Community Board 9 approved a resolution Thursday night that asks the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the entire cathedral campus except for a cut-out on a north lot where the Brodsky Organization is partnering with the church to build a 14-story, 428-unit apartment building that the church is counting on to fund repairs, upgrades and its ongoing operations.

In exchange, the Brodsky Organization has agreed to commit 35 percent of the building cost to minority, women and local businesses, said the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9.

"We helped the church and helped the community in doing it this way," said Morgan-Thomas. "It may not be the ideal thing because none of us want to see anything but the cathedral and the campus but the reality is the cathedral and the campus won't be maintained otherwise."

Church officials have said that the 121-year-old Gothic Revival cathedral is in need of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades that fundraising alone will never be able to match. After spending $8 to $10 million to develop service roads, the cathedral officials have said they will net $5 million per year from the new construction.

St. John's has resisted efforts to landmark the entire campus for at least 10 years but has said the church itself could be landmarked.

During that time, the church leased land on 110th Street and Morningside Avenue that used to be part of the campus to developers who built Avalon Morningside Park, a 20-story luxury apartment building, in 2007 that includes 20 percent affordable housing.

Opponents of this new project, to be located on Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, say that it ruins views of the cathedral and disrespects a nationally recognized building.

"This new building is only 40 feet from the church and as high as the church. It's out of place and outrageous," said Walter South, former Landmarks Committee chair of CB 9 who voted against the plan which passed by a vote of 22 to 12 with one abstention.

South said he doesn't buy the cathedral's argument about needing funds to maintain the remaining campus.

"It's like taking your wife's engagement ring down to the pawn shop," said South. "Why would you mortgage your future and not try national fundraising to save the building and campus?"

Handel Architects who designed the new building where rents will start at $1,700 has said the design of the modern glass structure will feature cutouts to create sight lines of the cathedral's transept.

Another separate, smaller building, part of the north site development, will sit slightly east on West 113th Street and the two buildings will be connected by stairs.

But with this agreement, said Morgan-Thomas, the community will benefit from the construction of the building and have a tool to stop any future attempts of development on the campus.

Preservationist can also use the cathedral landmarking to fight for a Morningside Heights Historic District, she said.

"If we don't landmark this entire campus what's to stop them from five to seven years from now saying we need to build something else?" asked Morgan-Thomas. "What we are looking to do is protect the campus, protect its majesty, so there won't be continued development."

 

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