Brooklyn developer looking to quietly unload UWS church: sources

Joseph Brunner said to be eager to sell landmarked Crenshaw Christian Center East; bought it for $42M, seeking $50M

361 Central Park West
361 Central Park West

UPDATED: A landmark Upper West Side church acquired in June by the sister of developer Ira Shapiro was immediately flipped to Brooklyn investor Joseph Brunner for about $42 million, The Real Deal has learned, and has now been quietly placed back on the market, according to multiple sources.

Irene Shapiro, the sister of the former One Madison Park developer, is listed as the previous buyer of the Crenshaw Christian Center East at 361 Central Park West, according to documents filed with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The filing indicates she purchased the landmarked property for $26 million in June from a Los Angeles-based church.

Shapiro immediately sold the property to Brunner in a transaction that was not fully recorded with the city Department of Finance, according to three sources familiar with the transaction. Sources claim the proceeds of the agreement went to Ira Shapiro, who says he is a consultant with Hartford CP Management, a firm listed under his sister’s name. The developer still owes millions of dollars in judgments and other litigation connected to his former One Madison Park condo project.

Sources say that Brunner, who provided the financing for Shapiro’s $26 million purchase of the church in June, now wants to quickly unload the property – and is said to be asking about $50 million for it.

Attorney Stuart Saft, who represents Hartford CP Management, denied that the church was flipped following the initial acquisition. He says Brunner was brought into the deal under a partnership agreement with the LLC that was formed to acquire the property. Saft says they had discussions with several parties, some of whom wanted to control the entity, before entering an agreement with Brunner.

Saft confirmed that Ira Shapiro is a consultant with the firm. A spokesperson for Saft’s law firm, Holland & Knight, denied that any proceeds were paid to Shapiro, claiming that Hartford CP Management only received fees and expenses paid during pre-construction.

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An employee at Brunner’s North Development Group, who would only identify himself as Michael, denied that the church was on the market after Brunner’s purchase. Brunner declined to comment on the deal, and referred calls to attorney Mitchell Korbey, a land use and zoning expert who represents Brunner.

Korbey denied knowing specifics about the acquisition of the church, but confirmed that the developers have had staff-level discussions with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Since the church carries landmark status, any proposal that would entail making changes to the building’s structure would have to be approved by the commission. The developers have plans to convert the church into condos.

“We are moving forward and expect to have a very good dialogue with the city and the community with regards to restoring and preserving this building,” Korbey told The Real Deal.

At least one formal complaint was made to the Department of Buildings in July amid concerns about permits and the removal of valuable fixtures at the property. DOB records show that inspectors visited the site, but that no citations were issued as landmark permits were not required for the type of work being done at the time.

The 48,000-square-foot Greek Revival Beaux Arts site, formerly known as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, had been on the market since at least 2013 as the Crenshaw Christian Center looked to unload the site. Crenshaw acquired the property in 2004 for $14 million but was faced with expensive repairs and high debt payments.