Celeb-favourite Manhattan church at centre of demolition dispute

The fight is still ongoing for the much-loved New York church that has been at the centre of a demolition dispute for years.

The West-Park Presbyterian Church, a building that has stood on West 86th Street since the 1880s, is threatened to be demolished to make way for a new condo block on the site that could be sold for around $30m.

The church, whose congregation of only 12 parishioners, wants to remove the building’s landmark status to go ahead with their plans to sell to Alchemy Properties.

On the church’s website, they state they were “nearly bankrupted” from the cost of trying to preserve the building.

However, conservationists and community groups are campaigning to save the derelict church from destruction and to pay for the repairs, and the fight has caught the eye of some Hollywood celebrities.

Marvel actor Mark Ruffalo has been vocal about the preservation of the church.

The church has had scaffolding around its exterior for years

(Google Maps)

Speaking to ABC News earlier this month, he stressed the importance of buildings like these for younger kids in the community.

“I live around the corner, right?” Ruffalo said. “I was, at 18 years old, that starving artist who needed a home like this. These places give kids direction. They give them opportunities.”

The actor is likely referring to The Center, a theatre and arts group based at the church, which aims to bring together the community and provides affordable performance and event spaces for locals, according to their website.

“Art boosts the economy. This city runs on art. This is a breeding ground for young artists. So, it’s not just the historical value of the place which is immensely important. It’s also what it gives to the community,” Mr Ruffalo added.

The congregation played a role in the original establishment of The Center, which was founded with three of its members on the board.

The actor also cited the church’s historical value to the area but admitted that “like every other brownstone in the Upper West Side,” the building needs work.

Mr Ruffalo is not the only famous face who has jumped on board the save campaign of the community-centred church.

Matt Damon announced he will be appearing in a community performance by The Center called “This Is Our Youth” on 16 November to raise money for repairs to the building.

Other celebrities who have gotten involved in the campaign in the past include actor Wendell Pierce, comedian Amy Schumer, and rapper Common, according to The New York Times.

Despite efforts from the community and A-listers, the church feels that the building is too far gone to sustainably keep it up.

The building, which has a lot of historical value and is often used as a community centre for the local residents, has been slowly crumbling for years – Google Maps street view shows the church with scaffolding around it as far back as 2009.

The church’s congregation said that it would cost too much to fix, around $50m according to their website, and instead have submitted a “hardship” application to strip the landmark title off the building so they can sell the land to a developer.

In a statement to The Independent, the West-Park Presbyterian Chuch notes that unsuccessful efforts to fundraise and the increased cost to preserve the more than 100-year-old building led to their decision to let go of their site.

“Our congregation made the difficult decision to sell our spiritual home of more than 140 years following decades of increasing expenses to preserve the building and various unsuccessful fundraising commitments from local leaders and organizations,” a spokesperson said.

“Today, we are focused on a path toward creating a safe, modern worship space where we can gather and invite our neighbours to celebrate arts and culture in our community.”

Matt Damon will appear in a community performance to raise money for the historical building

(Getty Images)

However, the local government’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is not letting the historical church slip away quite so easily.

While the church states on its website that despite years of working with experts to try and salvage the building, they have decided to sell on approval of their application, yet in an LPC public hearing held last week by the commission, members still suggested a series of alternatives of uses for the building.

One commissioner offered a suggestion similar to the renovations of 583 Park Avenue; what once was a church itself is now a lavish events venue that hosts private events for top companies.

The commissioner said that a similar approach could be taken to West-Park.

Another commissioner suggested the possibility of turning the church into a space for a preschool programme.

However, an independent real estate consultant, Keith Brenan of Weitzman Associates, said at the meeting on 31 October that it would still cost twice as much to save the building from its dereliction as it would be to purchase the land.

The meeting cited that the building’s exterior, made up of brownstone and sandstone, badly needs repairing, or walls could face collapse.

The commission has yet to schedule a vote on the church’s application.

The Independent has contacted the Landmarks Preservation Commission for comment.