Eichner to buy cash-strapped Midtown church for $70M, eyeing condo project

Developer plans 130+ unit condo building at Community Church of New York’s longtime Murray Hill home

Bruce Eichner and the Community Church of New York at 40 East 35th Street (Google Maps)
Bruce Eichner and the Community Church of New York at 40 East 35th Street (Google Maps)

Sure, Jesus performed miracles. But even he may have been impressed by this real estate deal.

The cash-strapped Community Church of New York is in contract to sell its Murray Hill home to Bruce Eichner for $70 million, The Real Deal has learned. The developer plans to build a roughly 185,000-square-foot condo building on the East 35th Street site, which the church has occupied since 1949.

The sale is a salvation for the nearly 200-year-old church, which was facing bankruptcy. Getting to this point required a leap of faith: Part of the church’s development site includes a townhouse occupied by rent-stabilized tenants and a men’s homeless shelter.

In order to clear the building and make the development possible, the church — already low on funds — shelled out $6 million to buy another townhouse nearby, where it was able to relocate the renters and the shelter.

“We’ve had some of these tenants for more than 50 years, and the next right thing for them was to be relocated to a place they really wanted to be in,” said Rev. Peggy Clarke, the church’s senior minister. “The whole thing was very risky, but to be honest, religious life right now is risky.”

Savills broker Geoffrey Newman, who arranged the sale, said he started working with the church in 2019. The portfolio, which includes the sanctuary at 40 East 35th Street and four adjacent townhomes, needed more than $20 million worth of repairs as real estate taxes ate away at the church’s endowment.

“They were land rich and cash poor,” Newman said. “I think this is a trend now with religious institutions. You have this combination of declining membership and participation in in-person religious facilities, which was exacerbated by Covid.”

The deal with Eichner’s Continuum Company is structured as a $69.5 million ground lease that will convert to a sale in the future. The church is now looking to purchase a site for a new home in the same neighborhood.

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Eichner told TRD that he plans to build somewhere between 130 and 150 condo units, which will come to market in 2025 or 2026.

“I think this is an opportunity to develop in Manhattan in a neighborhood I know really well,” he said. “This is not going to be a luxury product. This is a solid neighborhood in which, if you come to market with a $2,000-a-square-foot product, that just doesn’t exist right now in the city.”

Eichner said he’ll aim for price points under $2.5 million, and is considering designing somewhat larger units for people who plan to work from home a substantial amount.

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The new project is a return to Manhattan for Eichner.

The developer built the 83-unit Madison Square Park Tower at 45 East 22nd Street, which finished construction in 2017. Eichner, who lives in the building, said there are only two units left unsold.

More recently, the developer tried to rezone a site in Crown Heights to make way for a pair of 34-story apartment towers with 1,578 rental units, 40 percent of which would have been set aside as income-restricted.

The project faced pushback from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and community members, who argued the towers would cast plant-killing shadows over its conservatories. Even after Eichner scaled back the size of the project, the City Planning Commision in September rejected the revised proposal.

Continuum is challenging the ruling in court.