St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was to be a “beacon of hope” at the World Trade Center site, glowing at night as a symbol to the faithful and those seeking solace on hallowed ground.
Thousands of visitors were to walk through the church doors on Liberty Street to worship, light a candle or just sit quietly in a nondenominational meditation room overlooking one of the 9/11 Memorial’s reflecting pools.
Now the church is a half-built eyesore, and when those doors will open is uncertain. The project has been stalled for five months and become a quagmire of accusations and millions of dollars in missing donations and cost overruns.
What was to be the proud symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and the only house of worship tending to the masses at Ground Zero, is now mired in controversy and second-guessing:
- The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is reportedly probing the project’s finances and those of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The state attorney general is also investigating, according to The National Herald, a newspaper covering the Greek community.
- The cash-starved archdiocese is ready to put its Upper East Side headquarters in hock and is reportedly seeking a loan from Alma Bank of $7.5 million to $10 million to pay its debts.
- The Port Authority, on whose land the church sits for the nominal rent of $1 a year, is virtually powerless to restart the stalled project. Even though the shrine was supposed to be built within a few years of the land deal struck in 2011, the agency signed an agreement giving the archdiocese 20 years to complete it.
- The cost of the project once pegged at $30 million could now reach upward of $80 million. Some blame the pricey design changes on famed architect Salvatore Calatrava, others on the church leaders.
- Gov. Cuomo, who announced with great fanfare in 2011 that an agreement had finally been reached to move forward with the project, has been silent since construction hit the skids last year. Most city and downtown leaders have paid only lip service to the growing debacle.
“The Greek Orthodox church was the only religious institution destroyed in the attack of September 11th, and it’s very important that we have a rebuilt church,” said David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the government agency formed to coordinate post-9/11 recovery. “It was destroyed. It needs to be rebuilt.”
St. Nicholas Church stood for 85 years at 155 Cedar St., in a three-story row house built around 1830 as a private residence. A group of Greek families raised $25,000 to buy it in 1892, and it opened its doors as a church in 1916.
Named after the patron saint of sailors, the church was the first stopping point for many Greek immigrants after they left Ellis Island. As skyscrapers went up around it, the modest church added one floor to the whitewashed structure that sat, for years, in the shadow of the Twin Towers.
The building was reduced to a ruin when the south tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Continue reading at the New York Post.
See also the author’s “Feds Probe $80M Construction Scandal at Church Wrecked on 9/11” (April 7, 2018).
Melissa Klein is an investigative reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo credit: Brigitte Stelzer