Brodsky kicks off Saint John the Divine rental juggernaut

Plans filed for development on site of North America’s largest cathedral
By Adam Pincus | October 04, 2013 02:44PM

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, having finally landed the Brodsky Organization as a developer, is forging ahead with plans to build hundreds of rental apartments on its Upper West Side property. The application, filed yesterday, calls for a 330,995-square-foot development with 428 residential apartments, at Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, information from the city’s Department of Buildings shows. The project would rise as high as 15 stories, or 149 feet.

The two-building project, undertaken to support the cathedral financially, will be constructed under the so-called 80/20 Housing Program (which allows for 80 percent market-rate while requiring 20 percent affordably-priced apartments), a spokesperson for the church, Stephen Facey, told The Real Deal.

The church signed an agreement last month with Brodsky, a large Manhattan-based residential management and development firm, to lease the parcel for 99 years, as previously reported. The annual rent payments were not disclosed, and the agreement has not yet been filed with city property records.

Brodsky will pay rent for the land, but the religious organization is not co-developing the site nor will it profit directly from the apartment building, Facey said.

The cathedral – which many consider to be the largest in the world — has struggled for years to find a developer for the site, having moved forward with others such as Columbia University in 2005 and later Sam Zell’s Equity Residential, only to have the plans collapse.

Brodsky intends to move ahead.

“We do anticipate start of construction in the spring, but at the moment I cannot comment further,” Alexander Brodsky, of the development firm, said in an email to TRD.

Some local community members are opposed to the plan, noting that the building will block views of the towering cathedral from the north.

“We feel it is inappropriate,” Laura Friedman, president of the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, said.

She would not comment on whether they would object to any building or just the ones proposed. Instead of constructing the building, the cathedral should reach out to the greater Episcopal Church for financial support, she suggested.

“Our position is we don’t want this 14- or 15- or 16-story luxury apartment building. Beyond that, we are not taking a position,” Friedman said.

This is not the first apartment building constructed on the cathedral property. The real estate investment trust AvalonBay Communities developed a 20-story building in 2008 south of the cathedral.

Facey, a former executive vice president with the cathedral and now a consultant for the religious organization, said that the cathedral could have built a much larger development as of right, but slimmed it down considerably.

“This is really about stabilizing the cathedral’s finances,” he said.

The Brodsky Organization is expecting to meet with Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the chair of Community Board 9, next week, Facey said.