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Downtown congregation seeks developer for holy alliance to save church • Brooklyn Paper

Downtown congregation seeks developer for holy alliance to save church

Let’s make a deal: New Baptist Temple pastor Gus Rodriguez is seeking a developer to fix his historic church on Schermerhorn Street by adding in a cafe or even condos.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Help save the New Baptist Temple!

The Schermerhorn Street church that nearly burned down two summers ago is seeking a partner to keep it afloat by building condos or retail in the dilapidated building.

The only catch: Would-be saviors can’t tear down the old prayer house — just renovate and build above it.

“It’s an interesting combination and it can be done,” said Pastor Gus Rodriguez. “Don’t think of Staples — think of a café or health food store, where more people can enjoy this place.”

Rodriguez listed the deal through Corcoran earlier this month as a “rare and exciting joint venture” that would cost around $8 million. He refuses to sell the century-old Romanesque Revival building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but is seeking a real-estate mastermind for a church-condo-coffee shop hybrid.

Under the deal, the developer would renovate the ground-level sanctuary and reserve some space for the church, which has a 150-member congregation, provides a food pantry and focuses on caring for people with drug and alcohol problems.

“After the fire, our main concern was our congregation and service we can provide to community,” Rodriguez said. “We operate on the bare minimum, but so much could be done on this corner if we had a facility ready for the 21st century and beyond.”

In July, 2010, the church was damaged when a three-alarm fire erupted in the middle of the night in the organ loft.

The devilish incident only exacerbated the aging building’s problems, which include a shoddy boiler and leaky roof that Rodriguez estimates could cost several million dollars to replace.

Rodriguez hopes that whoever signs on for this divine restoration will preserve the historic character and stained-glass windows, though the possibilities to build are open-ended.

Zoning allows the developer to build up to eight floors on the 15,000-square-foot Baptist Temple, which also has an adjacent lot of about 25 by 75 feet. Rodriguez said that his flock would only need at most 16,000 square feet of the 97,000 square feet available for development.

The brick building — erected in 1894 and rebuilt in 1917 — was designed by prolific church designer George Kramer, who believed that a light-filled, theater-style interior was more important than the exterior.

But the simple brown brick church is majestic just the same, with brownstone trim and three corner towers — the largest of which faces Schermerhorn Street and Third Avenue.

The site is across from the BAM Cultural District and blocks from the Barclays Center arena. The church and its brokers hope that the busy location is enough to attract a bidder — though it would be cheaper to raze the building for a new hotel or residential complex.

It’s not the first time a historic church has gone condo. Cobble Hill’s 150-year-old Strong Place Church went on the market in December as a 24-unit luxury conversion.

“Everybody has his eye on Downtown Brooklyn,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have to promote it. The savvy real estate developers already know about the potential.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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