The controversy over the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan has brought up questions about the fate of a church that was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a small building that was crushed by the collapse of the South Tower when the World Trade Center was attacked. Then-Governor George Pataki committed in 2001 to making sure that a rebuilt church was part of the planning, and Mayor Bloomberg agreed after he took office. With the state committed to help rebuild the church, a new building six times the size of the original location was proposed nearby. In March 2009, the offer on the table was that the church would directly receive $20-million in public funds, and, since the church would be built above a bomb screening area of the parking structure for the rebuilt towers, the New York-New Jersey Port Authority agreed to pay for a $40-million blast proof platform and foundation for the church.
Specific agreements for the state to help rebuild the church date back to 2004 and former Gov. George Pataki, who told Fox News this week that he doesn’t understand why the Port Authority “put roadblocks” in the way of the church’s reconstruction. “It’s not the right thing to do,” he said.
The church lost out on its $60 million deal when both sides failed to come to final terms and the Port Authority ended its talks in March 2009, as the New York Times reported at the time.
But Father Mark Arey of the Greek Archdiocese of America told a news station that the they haven’t heard anything since the Port Authority took the deal off the table in August 2009. That was after the church didn’t accept the deal because it wanted to negotiate terms of domain and other issues.
“It’s a little cynical, after 8 years of negotiations and promises from political leaders to say: go back to where you were,” Father Arey said. “We thought we were a partner down there with everyone else St Nicholas is more than a church. Rebuilding it is important for the soul of our city and soul of our country.”
The proposed new address of 130 Liberty St. would be just 144 feet away from the old location of 155 Cedar St., according to Google maps and a New York Times graphic of the location.
The man in charge of the church, Father John Romas, was temporarily assigned to St. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral. A woman there said he was in Greece until early next month.
Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority, sent TPMMuckraker this statement:
“St. Nicholas Orthodox Church has always had and will continue to have the right to rebuild on its original location. The question was whether public money would be spent to build a much larger church at a separate location on the site and ensuring that construction wouldn’t delay the World Trade Center further.
On that question, we worked for many years to reach an agreement and offered up to 60 million dollars of public money to build that much larger new church.
After reaching what we believed was an agreement in 2008, representatives of the church wanted even more public commitments, including unacceptable approvals on the design of the Vehicle Security Center that threatened to further delay the construction on the World Trade Center and the potential for another $20 million of public funds.
In 2009, we made our final offer, which again included up to $60 million in public money and told St. Nicholas Orthodox Church that the World Trade Center could not be delayed over this issue. They rejected that offer.
St. Nicholas Church retains the right to build on its original location and work could begin in 2013 in sequence with the completion of the Vehicle Security Center, just as it would have on the larger site.”
The Port Authority has no jurisdiction over the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, as it lies outside of the former World Trade Center footprint. The proposed center is, instead, squarely in the jurisdiction of the city of New York.