The Real Deal New York

Seminary grapples with luxury condo development on campus

Students say plan to sell 350K sf of air rights violates school's ideals

December 11, 2015 10:46AM

Union Theological Seminary Serene Jones

From left: Serene Jones and the Brown Memorial Tower at the Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights

No one can serve two masters, scripture says. But leaders at the Union Theological Seminary hope that, in their case, God and money can co-exist.

The Seminary in Morningside Heights, hoping to fund a $100 million renovation, is considering a condominium development on campus and the sale of 350,000 square feet of development rights, to the consternation of its social-justice-oriented students.

The religious school at 3041 Broadway, considered the birthplace of black liberation theology and feminist theology, has contemplated development on campus for decades, with plans centered around a “slender building” situation in the northern part of the quadrangle, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the school’s present, told the Wall Street Journal.

She wouldn’t divulge exactly how tall a potential building would be, but said it would “respect” the nearby Riverside Church, which stands 293 feet. It would likely stand around 35 to 40 stories, according to Robert Von Ancken of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.

In a letter, more than 200 students and alumni called for the plan to be halted.

“Building a new high-rise community only for the elite in the heart of the UTS campus is antithetical to the building of a world where all God’s children are to be loved, housed and cared for,” the letter stated.

In her defense, Jones cited theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. “You never make decisions in a morally pure world,” she told the Journal. “We live in a morally complex environment.”

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown is also looking to sell its air rights. [WSJ]Ariel Stulberg