West-Park Presbyterian Church, located on Amsterdam Avenue and West 86th Street, has experienced a decrease in its congregation at a time when its debt continues to grow. The church, built in the 1850s, is in need of millions of dollars of renovations to maintain the structure. Following in a line of charitable institutions attempting to shore up their finances by auctioning off their real estate rights, West-Park Presbyterian Church has considered allowing Richman Housing Resources to demolish a former chapel next to their main sanctuary and build a 21-story tower in its place.
In exchange for the rights to sell dozens of condos at the top of the tower, Richman would pay for the sanctuary’s renovation. In order to do this, the company set up an endowment for West Park and has agreed to cover the majority of the tower’s construction costs. Alongside 27 market-rate condos, the tower would contain 50 rent-subsidized studio apartments for residents 55 years or older making less than $24,000 per year, along with church offices and community space.
The potential loss of the former chapel is troubling to many local residents and preservationists. Many neighbors, who fear the loss of their views over the low-rise church, have pledged to contribute $4 million to renovate the church and build a shorter new building without demolishing the chapel’s façade. Despite this financial commitment, the church has remained committed to moving forward with its original plans. Some in the community have also charged that the tower’s much-heralded affordable housing will amount to segregation, with low-income residents of the tower entering the building through a different door than owners of market-rate condominiums (which would occupy the top floors of the building) and being barred from the tower’s gym, playroom, or media center.
After urging from several preservationists, in February 2009, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) agreed to calendar a hearing on potentially designating West-Park Presbyterian Church a landmark. If the church is given landmark status, the plan for the tower will not be able to move forward.