|St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church|
|St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine|
The church seen in September 2018
|Location||130 Liberty Street,|
Manhattan (New York City), New York
|Former name(s)||St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church|
|Architect(s)||Santiago Calatrava, Koutsomitis Architects PC|
|Length||56 ft (17 m)|
|Width||22 ft (6.7 m)|
|Height||35 ft (11 m)|
|Archdiocese||Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America|
|Priest(s)||Father John Romas|
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (officially the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine) is a church under construction as part of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City. The church is being developed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Originally scheduled to be completed in 2017, the church's construction was later stalled.
The church is located in Liberty Park, overlooking the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Its dome is inspired by the world-famous Byzantine Church of the Savior in Edirnekapı, Istanbul. It will contain a meditation/bereavement space and a community room housed in the upper levels above the Narthex "to welcome visitors and faithful." According to its official website, the new "Saint Nicholas would welcome all and be a House of Prayer for all people."
It will replace the original church of the same name located at 155 Cedar Street, which was destroyed on September 11, 2001 when the South Tower of the original World Trade Center collapsed after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. It was the only building not part of the original World Trade Center complex to be completely destroyed as a result of the attacks, although the Deutsche Bank Building next door was later demolished due to severe damage and contamination.
|Interior of the original church|
The building that came to house the church was built around 1832. It was originally a private dwelling which was later turned into a tavern.
In 1916, Greek American immigrants started the congregation of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Before moving to Cedar Street, its parishioners worshiped in the dining room of a hotel on Morris Street run by Stamatis Kalamarides. In addition to the immigrant community, the church was also visited by Greek shipping magnates passing through New York.
In 1919, five families raised US$25,000 to buy the tavern, converted it into a church, and started to hold worship services in 1922. The church building was only 22 feet (6.7 m) wide, 56 feet (17 m) long, and 35 feet (11 m) tall. It was originally an old calendar church but during the 1980s had Wednesday services according to the new calendar.
Despite its small size and unusual location (all the adjacent buildings had been demolished, leaving the church surrounded on three sides by a parking lot), before the attacks the church had a dedicated congregation of about 70 families led by Father John Romas. On Wednesdays, the building was open to the public, and received visitors who were not all Greek Orthodox.
The building was completely buried by the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center. No one was inside when the church was destroyed; the church sexton and an electrician were able to escape only minutes before.
A report in a Greek-Orthodox newspaper said that before the south tower collapsed, part of the airplane's landing gear was seen resting atop the church. Additionally, human body parts were spotted on and around the church before the collapse of the tower, presumably the remains of either those who had jumped or fallen from the towers, or of the passengers of the hijacked planes.
Very little of the church's content was recovered. Among the church's most valuable physical possessions were some of the relics of St Nicholas, St Catherine, and St Sava, which had been donated to the church by Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. These relics were removed from their safe on holy days for veneration; they were never recovered after the attack. To Archbishop Demetrios, the notion that the saints' relics were intermingled in the dust with the remains of the attack victims only serves to sanctify the site further.
The congregation members and Father Romas temporarily relocated to Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn.[note 1]
On December 6, 2001, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop Demetrios of America, joined by Archbishop Iakovos and area clergy, celebrated a somber vespers and memorial service near the location where the Church once stood.
Following its collapse, donations of almost $2 million were received, as well as additional pledges of construction materials and appointments for the complete rebuilding of the Church. The city of Bari, Italy, where the relics of Saint Nicholas were originally bestowed, donated $500,000. The Government of Greece contributed $750,000 to these efforts, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave $50,000.[note 2]
Meanwhile, the plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center complex included building a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church quite close to the original location, on the elevated Liberty Park. The church would again house a worshipping congregation, while a museum would also be built for the projected large influx of visitors expected to come to the site.
On July 23, 2008, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reached a deal with the leaders of the church for the Port Authority to acquire the 1,200-square-foot (110 m2) lot that the church had occupied for $20 million; $10 million came from the Port Authority and $10 million from JPMorgan Chase & Co. Under the terms of the deal, the Port Authority would grant land and up to $20 million to help rebuild the church in a new location – in addition, the authority was willing to pay up to $40 million to construct a bomb-proof platform underneath it.
In March 2009, the Port Authority stated that it had stopped talking with the church and had canceled building St. Nicholas altogether. The Port Authority said that the church was asking for too much, and that they might delay the whole World Trade Center project. The Archdiocese, however, said that they just wanted the church back, and a third of the building would be a memorial for 9/11, a place where people of all faiths could pray and remember those who died in the attacks.
In July 2010 George Demos, a former SEC attorney and Republican Congressional candidate, first brought the failure to rebuild St. Nicholas Church into the national debate. Demos said that the Executive Director of the Port Authority, Chris Ward, had not made rebuilding St. Nicholas church a top priority. On August 16, 2010, Demos launched a petition on his website calling on the Port Authority to rebuild the church, calling the Port Authority "disingenuous and disrespectful". On August 23, 2010, former New York Governor George Pataki joined George Demos at a press conference to call on the Port Authority to reopen talk with officials from the Church.
During the vespers service held on December 5, 2010, Archbishop Demetrios said the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese would do anything to rebuild the church.
On February 14, 2011, The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Port Authority pursuant to Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983), requesting a grand jury trial for not rebuilding the church.
As a result of settlement discussions mediated by the Governor of New York's office, the Port Authority and Archdiocese agreed to an independent engineering study to determine the feasibility of siting the Church at various locations in Liberty Park. The four-month study was led by construction expert Peter Lehrer, who worked on the project on a pro bono basis with Director of World Trade Center Construction Steven Plate and independent engineers Gorton & Partners and McNamara/Salvia, Inc. The study concluded that structural issues could be resolved to site the Church at 130 Liberty Street at significantly lower cost than originally agreed, and with no delay to construction at the World Trade Center site.
On October 14, 2011, ten years after the church was destroyed, an agreement for the reconstruction of the church was signed that ended all legal action. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Archbishop Demetrios, and Christopher O. Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that the new church would be constructed at the intersection of Liberty and Greenwich Streets in Liberty Park, exactly where it had been envisioned three years before. However, the church would be located on a plot of 4,100 square feet, about two-thirds the size of the site in the earlier proposed plan of 2008. It would also include an adjacent nondenominational bereavement center.
The new site at 130 Liberty Street was less than 50 yards east of the church's original site at 155 Cedar Street, but more than three times larger. The new church would be rebuilt on Port Authority land, on a platform above the helical underground ramp of the Vehicular Security Center, which will house the loading and parking areas of the new World Trade Center. The Port Authority estimated that it would spend about $25 million to construct the platform on which St. Nicholas will sit and provide the necessary utility hookups, while the church would pay for anything built above ground. Archbishop Demetrios stated that "our pledge is to be a witness for all New Yorkers, that freedom of conscience and the fundamental human right of free religious expression will always shine forth in the resurrected St. Nicholas Church."
Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava was awarded the task of designing the new St. Nicholas. His plans were influenced by the great Byzantine churches of Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul. According to Calatrava, who consulted Archbishop Demetrios with regard to the liturgical and iconographical requirements of the interior, the church would be built of steel and concrete, but the exterior would be clad in stone.
The ground blessing ceremony and symbolic laying of the cornerstone took place on October 18, 2014, attended by government and church leaders, with construction expected to be completed within two years. In September 2015 a live webcam showing the church's construction was made available.
In 2015 AHEPA chapters from across the country launched fundraising efforts hoping to raise at least $500,000 over the following two years toward the estimated $38 million project, combining contributions with private gifts and donations from the 525 parishes within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. In the spring of 2016, it was announced that proceeds totaling $100,000 from the liquidation of the assets of St. Nicholas Church in Appleton, Wisconsin would be donated to the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church and Shrine. The parish would be denoted as a benefactor, and a video history of their church would be present at the new St. Nicholas National Shrine. In September 2016 the Stavros Niarchos Foundation donated 5 million dollars for the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas at the WTC.
On August 21, 2017, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church signed a formal lease and purchase agreement with the Port Authority for what is to be known as The Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center. The final deal was signed by Rick Cotton, the Port’s new executive director, just days after he took on the role. The 198-year lease runs until July 31, 2215, and has an additional 99-year extension, as well as an option to buy the land from the Port Authority at any time during the term of the lease for a nominal [i.e., $1] purchase price.
The church was expected to re-open in November 2018. However, in December 2017, Skanska U.S.A., the construction company rebuilding the Santiago Calatrava-designed shrine, ceased work at the site in Liberty Park. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America had been unable to pay Skanska's bills, despite receiving $37 million in donations for the shrine. According to a December 2017 newsletter, $48,991,760 had been pledged to date, while of that amount $37,398,316 had been collected, leaving a pledge balance of just over $11 million. Following the cessation of work, the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan as well as the state Attorney General's Office opened probes into the project’s finances and those of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
On May 16, 2018, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America released the results of Phase I of a PricewaterhouseCoopers investigative report regarding the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine (SNCNS). The report concluded that as of December 31, 2017, the Archdiocese owed the SNCNS an aggregate of $3,504,550, excluding interest. On May 2, 2018, the Archdiocese made a $1,000,000 payment to the SNCNS thereby reducing the balance due to $2,504,550.
In July 2018 the Archdiocese closed a deal with Alma Bank for a 10-year, $5.5-million mortgage to restore monies to the unfinished St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at Liberty Park, however the fresh funding is not expected to be enough to complete the project, whose cost has ballooned to $80 million.
On October 16, 2018, the Special Investigative Committee (SIC) released Phase II of the PricewaterhouseCoopers investigative report to the Archdiocese, along with a summary communication based on the report. It concluded that there was no evidence that St. Nicholas funds were improperly paid to any individuals employed by or associated with the Archdiocese, and no evidence or allegation that fraud was committed in connection with the St. Nicholas project. Rather, the cost overruns appear to have been the result of change orders agreed to by Archdiocese decision-makers to address architectural concerns or enhance the design of SNCNS. In addition, the Special Investigative Committee recommended that the St. Nicholas rebuilding effort be spearheaded by a new legal entity, the "Friends of St. Nicholas," which could be affiliated with, but would be independent from the Archdiocese, with separate bank accounts and an appropriately qualified board to do the fund-raising and oversee the project.
In April 2019, reports from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office said that he had assembled a team of seven millionaire and billionaire donors committed to putting up the money to complete the project. Estimates from New York officials and the Port Authority are that the rebuilt church will be the most visited church in the United States.
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