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Harlem Church Planning to Sell Building to Billionaire Developer for $10M

 The church said in court records its expenses outpaces its income and the sale will help it financially.
The church said in court records its expenses outpaces its income and the sale will help it financially.
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Flickr/Jag9889

HARLEM— A cash-strapped West 135th Street church is planning to sell its property to a billionaire developer for more than $10 million dollars to pay off its debt and secure a new space, court records show.

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, at 58 W. 135th St. — the second oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Manhattan, its website site says — has agreed to sell its property to Empire Development Fund 4, LLC, which is owned by billionaire developer Moujan Vahdat.

The church claims its expenses have continued to outpace income and, coupled with an aging building in need of speedy repairs, it opted to sell the property to make the church financially secure, according to documents filed in state Supreme Court Friday.

Since its trustees and members unanimously voted to approve the sale, the church must get approval from the court and state Attorney General because it is a religious corporation.

The building has an outstanding $795,491 mortgage, and the property is worth $3.54 million, records show.

The church claimed it had a “shortfall” of $14,461 in its most recent financial statement, with revenue of $429,298 and debt of $443,759, according to court records.

The church was founded in 1901 on West 41st Street and moved to the West 135th Street address years later, according to its website. The building is not landmarked, according to court records.

The church was forced to take out a loan in 2006 to make repairs to the building, but the expenses for upkeep are “not sustainable,” court documents said.

The church said Vahdat offered the most money and “included the possibility of affordable housing," but “it is unlikely” those units would be included because changes to the state's 421-a tax-credit program will include union labor requirements, the documents show.

However, changes to the program would only require there be “certain average wages for projects that are larger than 300 units and south of 96th Street in Manhattan,” according to The Real Deal, which first reported on the  sale.

READ MORE: What You Need to Know About the New 421-A Tax Break for Developers

It is not clear from court documents if the project would include be market-rate apartments or condos. 

Vahdat declined to comment. 

The developer owns several affordable housing complexes, including three in Manhattan and three in The Bronx, court documents show.

The deal also includes renovating a space at the development site for the church, including an apartment for the current pastor. The church would be relocated for a little more than two years, the documents said.

In the new development, the first and cellar floors — roughly 11, 000 square feet — will be reserved for the church. The developer will also pay $400,000 of the church’s mortgage, which also includes monthly payments of $4,000, which increases 4 percent every five years, for 20 years after construction.

Vahdat will also pay the church's monthly rent when it relocates.

The church called the deal an “arms-length” transaction, pledging that key employees, directors or members, including their relatives, will not have direct or indirect monetary gains.

A lawyer representing the church did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.