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Planned SoHo Bike Share Dock 'Disrespects' Catholic Memorial, Priest Says

By Andrea Swalec | July 18, 2012 10:27am

SOHO — The city Department of Transportation wants to station 30 bikes of the city's delayed bike-share program in a small park on Sixth Avenue — but a local priest is raising holy hell about it. 

Father Joe Lorenzo, pastor of the Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua, is asking the DOT to reconsider plans to install a bike pickup and drop-off dock inside of Father Fagan Park, which is named after a priest from the church who died in a fire in the 1930s. 

"It has come to my attention that the city DOT has plans to add bike rental units to Father Fagan Park, at the corner of [Prince] and Sixth Avenues," Lorenzo wrote in a June 27 email to DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione. 

"I am sure you know that Father Fagan Park is dedicated to a young Fransciscan priest who gave his life for his fellow priests in a fire at the then-parish rectory at 151 Thompson Street. As Fransiscans and as a parish community, Father Fagan Park has been special to us," Fagan wrote, adding that the park also contains "a memorial to the three firefighters who perished at the fire at Watts Street, members of engine 24, Ladder 5, just around the corner from us."

"This has long linked the firehouse with St. Anthony's and the Franciscans, and we hope that this site not be cheapened or commercialized by placing a bike rental unit there."

The park — which is reportedly slated for $1.5 million in upgrades to trees, lighting, pavement and more — honors Richard Fagan, a Brazil-born associate pastor at the church who began his service there in 1936 and lived in the church rectory, a plaque in the park explained. 

Early on the morning of Nov. 4, 1938, a fire broke out in the rectory, the marker said. Fagan escaped but returned to the building twice to rescue Father Louis Vitale and Father Bonaventure Pons. Badly burned, he jumped out of a window onto an adjacent building. 

Fagan was hospitalized for his injuries and died five days later at age 27. 

The park also pays tribute to the victims of another tragic blaze in the mid-'90s. 

Captain John Drennan, 49, Firefighter James Young, 31, and Firefighter Christopher Siedenburg, 25, responded to a fire at 62 Watts St. the night of March 28, 1994. After being trapped in the building, Young died on the scene and Drennan and Siedenburg died in the days that followed.

Bronze plaques at the base of three trees along Sixth Avenue honor the firefighters. 

A spokesman for the DOT said the agency has been informed of the church's concerns and is reviewing the plan. 

Lorenzo added that the DOT gave a diagram of where the bike rack is supposed to be placed inside the triangular half-acre park, parallel to Sixth Avenue, behind a row of benches. He added that the park is not large enough to accommodate the bike rack.

"They'll take up the whole park," noted Lorenzo, who said he's not opposed to the much-anticipated bikes, just the placement of them.

"We don't care where they put [the station], just don't put it in Father Fagan Park."