Spirit in the sky

New York Archdiocese looks to the heavens for fiscal relief

Nov.November 01, 2015 10:00 AM
St-Patricks-Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Worshipers attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden received more than a blessing. They also got a handout urging their support for a change to New York City’s policy for transferring valuable air rights. The Archdiocese of New York is in the midst of a very public campaign to have any Midtown East rezoning allow it to sell the development rights over St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “Enabling the archdiocese to sell … air rights would not only safeguard the future of the physical landmark, but it would also strengthen the archdiocese’s ability to sustain and expand its robust charitable, pastoral and educational programs,” the flyer read. The zoning changes the Church wants would create a special district giving owners of landmarked properties a green light to sell their air rights to developers whose sites are not adjacent to their buildings. St. Patrick’s has about 1.2 million square feet of air rights, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The push comes as the archdiocese deals with multimillion-dollar operating deficits and major demographic changes that have led to numerous parish closures. Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said the archdiocese spends $40 million a year to keep struggling parishes afloat. “We’re exhausted by maintenance and we’ve forgotten the mission, not to mention the message,” he wrote.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

$22 million
Amount that Houston-based developer Hines paid to St. Thomas Episcopal Church on West 53rd Street for 275,000 square feet of air rights in 2007. That’s a rate of $80 per square foot, which is markedly low for the area. The air rights were used for the construction of the Jean Nouvel-designed MoMA tower.

19%
Portion of the 368 New York Archdiocese parishes merged or closed in August as part of the Catholic Church’s consolidation. As of Aug. 1, 112 parishes were combined into 55 new ones. The Church now has 296 parishes, compared to 409 parishes 10 years ago.

$250
Price per square foot the Bloomberg administration would have charged owners of qualified sites in exchange for development rights as part of its failed proposal to rezone Midtown East. Those payments would have gone into a special fund to pay for infrastructure improvements to the area.

$1.1 billion
Amount in damages sought by Grand Central Terminal owner Andrew Penson in a lawsuit against the city and 1 Vanderbilt developer SL Green Realty. Penson claims SL Green should have been forced to buy Grand Central’s air rights before getting the city’s approval to build its 1,501-foot-tall office tower next door. It estimates the landmark’s roughly 1.2 million square feet of air rights are worth about $880 per square foot.

14
Number of NYC landmarks that have successfully transferred air rights under the program known as 74-79, which dictates the transfer of development rights from landmark buildings. All were in Midtown or Downtown. Among them: Rockefeller Center, the Seagram Building and India House. In total, that’s nearly 2.6 million square feet of space.

33 million
Estimated square footage of unused development rights now held by Manhattan landmark buildings located south of Central Park. That’s roughly equal to 12 Empire State Buildings, or 33,000 1,000-square-foot apartments.

Central Synagague

Central Synagague

82
Number of condo units going up at 435 East 11th Street in the East Village. Developer Douglas Steiner paid $41 million in 2012 for the land and buildings of St. Mary Help of Christians, which was closed in 2007. The church, school and rectory were demolished in 2013.

2+ million
Combined square footage of unused air rights at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue and Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue, three of the NYC’s most renowned religious landmarks. The air rights could be worth anywhere from $400 million to $1.1 billion.

45
Number of NYC Catholic schools closed since 2000. The archdiocese still educates about 47,000 students across 170 schools. Some shuttered schools were sold, including St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School in Little Italy, the city’s oldest Catholic school. That sale netted $30.7 million and is being converted to luxury condos.

Sources: National Catholic Reporter, National Review, Capital New York, WNYC, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS and TRD reporting.


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