Tax Lien on Old St. Nicholas Property Said Not a Problem; Project Reported on Track – UPDATED

The New York Post, which has closely followed the effort to rebuild the Church of St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center, reported during Holy Week that “we’ve discovered the vacant site at 155 Cedar Street, which is being used to stage World Trade Center construction, is now on the city’s lien list as owing more than $82,000.”

NEW YORK – The New York Post, which has closely followed the effort to rebuild the Church of St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center, reported during Holy Week that “we’ve discovered the vacant site at 155 Cedar Street, which is being used to stage World Trade Center construction, is now on the city’s lien list as owing more than $82,000.” The Archdiocese of America sees it as a technical issue that is not a matter of concern.

That site was to be swapped to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) for the church’s new nearby location, 130 Liberty Street. The National Herald contacted Emmanuel Demos, General Counsel of the Archdiocese, who put the tax issue into perspective and provided additional details about the project to which Greek-Americans across the country have been paying attention.

Demos informed TNH that the rebuilding project is on track. It had been hoped that the new church would be completed by 2016, which is the parish’s 100th anniversary, but he said that a grand opening by Pascha 2017, which falls on April 16, “is doable.”

“They are thinking late July or August, 2014” for the commencement of construction, he said.

TNH contacted the PA seeking a more precise timetable, but was told by an official that “all inquiries are referred to the Greek Orthodox Church.”

TNH also asked about the estimated completion date for the Vehicle Security Center (VSC), on top of which St. Nicholas would stand. The official could not provide a timeframe, but noted that construction vehicles are already using the structure.

Per the agreement between the PA and the Church (St. Nicholas and the Archdiocese of America), the NY-NJ agency has already built and is paying for the $20 million platform above the VSC. The Church is responsible for the construction and costs of the sanctuary.

Regarding the tax-lien issue, prior to speaking to Demos TNH was informed by an official from the NYC Department of Finance that “unless something happens quickly, that property is on the 30-day lien list to be sold on May 16, 2014.”

The Archdiocese has retained a certiorari specialist to resolve the matter.

In her April 15 article, the Post’s Lois Weiss wrote that “The charismatic Father Alexander Karloutsos told us he had no idea the church owed money. As he pointed out, even if the church still owned the property, the money still would not be owed, since they had a religious exemption…But ‘had’ is the operative word. Despite the church having been crushed on 9/11, bills are still sent to what the Department of Finance notes is a ‘bad address.’ For some reason, the religious exemption was removed as of July 1, 2012,”
Demos told TNH he believes the situation was triggered by City not getting a response to the notices it had been sending to 155 Cedar Street, which may no longer exist as an address let alone a building. He said, “The post office should have returned them but didn’t.”
Other important issues have been resolved or are on the verge of resolution, Demos said, including obtaining all the relevant permits.
The Turner Construction Company has been hired as the general contractor after their construction manager, Gorton & Partners, solicited bids from three or four builders and Demos said that Turner is now in the process of receiving bids from the sub-contractors.
Once all the contracts are signed, the architects will produce the drawings from which the contractors will work.
Nicholas P. Koutsomitis, Principal of Koustomitis Architects, PC, is the architect of record, and he is responsible for the overall project. Santiago Calatrava is the design architect. The latter will continue to work on the project since he is often on site for the completion of the PATH station which he also designed.
The Calatrava name guarantees press coverage, but not only for his spectacular creations.
Weiss also noted that “As Post colleague Steve Cuozzo previously reported, the church has hired notoriously over-budget architect Santiago Calatrava to design the new church,” and quoted Fr. Karloutsos that “I believe we have the appropriate team, and we are working harmoniously and responsibly.”
Demos told TNH that Turner Construction and Koutsomitis, along with structural engineer Emmanuel Velivasakis of international firm Thorton-Tomasetti, who has worked with Koutsomitis on the project for many years, will work to keep the project on time and under cost.
Demos said the team looks at the materials that will be used and if what is suggested, such as marble, costs too much, it will be replaced.
The construction will be governed by the rules of the Port Authority, which is an independent agency, and not under New York City law, according to Demos. “They have their own building code and we have to comply with that.”
TNH has previously reported on another issue, the fact that 130 Liberty Street is owned not by the PA but by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC). The agreement to turn it over to the PA was not finalized when the PA and Church came to their final agreement in 2011, which was signed in the presence of New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Demos said the LMDC has now taken care of their part of the transfer and have given the PA the required 90 day notice. He said that there will soon be an official meeting to approve the transfer and the PA will them prepare the final paperwork for the Church in the coming weeks. “We have completed all our comments on all the documents and they are sitting with the Port Authority lawyers. I imagine they will close the LMDC matter first then come back to us.”
TNH has also reported that under that agreement, the Port Authority will own the land and will lease it to the archdiocese for 99 years at a nominal $1 per year, but the Archdiocese has the option to buy it outright, for a nominal price of $1. It is expected that it will exercise that option when construction is completed.