Under significant pressure from Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority will allow St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church to rebuild their destroyed church on a World Trade Center site. An earlier deal had the state giving the church $20 million to rebuild while the Port invested $40 million in a blast-proof platform for the building over a new vehicle security center beneath. That deal moved the church up the street from their old location at 155 Cedar Street and onto a 4,100 square foot site at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty streets. Under the new agreement the church will stay on Liberty Street and the Port will build a $25 million platform, with the church raising its own funds to rebuild.
From 2003 to 2008, the church worked with the Port to develop the Liberty Street site. But as the church’s ambitions grew from the original 1,200-square-foot chapel to a community center of more than 6,000 square feet, the Port pulled out. The church in turn forced the agency’s hand with a lawsuit that was just about to go to court when the governor stepped in.
For their part, church officials say they were more than cooperative all along. “Whenever they asked us to move we moved,” said Nicholas Koutsomitis, architect for the proposed church. “We always looked at the bigger picture, we did that for eight years.”
Unlike the proposal for a mosque a block away, there remains substantial support for the church to rebuild on the WTC site. “I think that the issue with the mosque in a way saved the church from eminent domain,” said Koutsomitis. Donations to rebuild began pouring in immediately after the attacks. Despite the importance of the overarching World Trade project, using eminent domain to remove the tiny church with its congregation of 70 families probably wouldn’t have played out well in the press.
Father Mark Arey said there are two words to describe the new deal. “Win, win!” he exclaimed. Arey, the spokesperson for the Greek Archdiocese in America, said the agreement signed in Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office between archdiocesan council vice-chair Michael Jaharis and the Port Authority's soon-to-be-departing-director Chris Ward would not cause the state financial hardship or delay construction.
Throughout the planning and the lawsuit Koutsomitis said his architecture office acted as a clearinghouse for all aspects of the negotiations. “It’s very rare, but it’s a special relationship with the client group,” explained Koutsomitis of the combination design, legal, and financial team.
Currently there is no final design, the architect said, but it will be clearly identified as an Eastern Orthodox church. While the old St. Nicholas contrasted with Yamasaki’s twin towers, the new church will play off the new buildings, the architect said, describing the new structure as a transparent “cube that’s floating on air.” If the current schedule holds, the church could open its doors by 2014.