Back in July 2008, less than four weeks after state officials conceded major complications and delays in the World Trade Center rebuilding process, the Port Authority quickly pushed through a long-sought agreement with the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that was destroyed on September 11, 2001. At the time, the deal, which involved the Port Authority investing up to $60 million to move the church’s land a block east, was treated as a demonstration of rapid progress in an era of new leadership, as Governor Paterson had recently ordered the revisions to the rebuilding timetable.
Now, it seems a final deal has proved more elusive than the Port Authority once believed. This week, the agency, which owns the World Trade Center site, said it is breaking off talks with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese after months of disagreement over details. (The Archdiocese said it continues to discuss a deal with the agency).
A Port Authority official said the agency is now planning to pursue condemnation in order to seize control of the church’s land, a move that would seem to open the door for a lengthy legal battle should the church choose to fight back in the courts. The collapse of the deal comes as a clear blow to the agency, which needs the land in order to build part of the Vehicle Security Center, a key piece of infrastructure for the World Trade Center.
“We made an extraordinarily generous offer to resolve this issue and spent eight months trying to finalize that offer, but the church wanted even more on top of that,” Port Authority spokesman Stephen Sigmund said in a statement. “They have now given us no choice but to move on to ensure the site is not delayed. The church continues to have the right to rebuild at their original site and we will pay fair market value for the underground space beneath that building.”
Based on the terms of the agreement reached in July, the Port Authority was going to pay the church $20 million toward the construction of a new church in exchange for its 1,200-square-foot parcel, located south of the southwest corner of the World Trade Center site. The agency would give the church a new 8,000-square-foot site a block to the east, where it would put up to $40 million in infrastructure under the new structure.
However, the details were hard fought. A Port Authority official said the agency felt the demands of the Archdiocese were too onerous. It wanted heavy penalties if the site was not delivered by a certain date, consent to the design of nearby infrastructure and an upper height limit that reached too high for the bi-state agency’s liking, according to the official.
The Archdiocese did not comment specifically on the points of disagreement but released a formal statement that still expressed hope for an agreement:
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been in discussions with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since 2002 in our efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed on 9/11/01.
We consider the rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Church a sacred obligation to the victims of 9/11, to the City of New York, to the people of America and in fact to the international community.
We will continue to discuss in good faith and we believe that all parties involved are well-intended and ultimately we will overcome any obstacles that have arisen.
Further complicating matters, despite its doing the negotiations, the Archdiocese does not own the land to the church, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather, the local parish holds the title.