The wrecking ball is about to swing, but the finger pointing over the coming demolition of Fourth Avenue’s beloved “Green Church” is already in full motion.
This week, Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) unveiled the results of his much-ballyhooed hunt for new developers that, he claims, would have preserved the emerald-colored Bay Ridge United Methodist Church — but church officials said the plans weren’t good enough.
“None of the alternative offers came anywhere close to meeting the church’s needs or the congregation’s needs,” said the church’s pastor, Robert Emerick, who has long sought to demolish the 109-year-old house of worship, sell its land to a developer, and reopen a smaller, easier-to-maintain church building.
But Gentile still says that any one of this three plans could have succeeded:
• A Gentile-assisted proposal from Con Edison called for preserving the church and surrounding it with affordable housing for seniors. This plan would have generated about $300,000 per year the congregation — the annual cost of maintaining the decaying building.
But the church shot down the plan in 2007.
“The main problem was that it assumed that the congregation would have put the proceeds into saving the building — and we’ve tried to make it clear that we don’t see Christianity that way,” Emerick told The Brooklyn Paper. “We don’t think the congregation’s purpose is to keep plowing money into a building.”
• An Omni New York LLC proposal that would have paid the congregation $9.75 million — the same price that current developer Abe Betesh will pay when the building is demolished — to build state or federally financed affordable housing for seniors. While the developers awaited the difficult-to-secure public dollars, they would give the church a $250,000 stipend, but church officials said it wasn’t worth interrupting the long-planned demolition.
“We would have been required to put everything on hold while they looked for financing, and they would have had no risk whatsoever,” said Emerick. “It would have been a matter of us putting aside all of the plans that we have looked into for three years.”
• An Engel Burman Group proposal would have leased the land from the congregation, preserved the verdant façade and surrounded it with senior residences, and constructed the congregation a $3.5-million church along Ovington Avenue.
Gentile thinks this plan is still on the table, but Emerick said it had already been dismissed.
Despite his failure to get the congregation to reconsider tearing down the limestone landmark, Gentile heralded the preservation efforts as “valiant.”
“I’m disappointed that we have not been able to reach a win-win resolution,” Gentile said.
With Gentile’s plans off the drawing board and with a demolition permit awaiting review from the Department of Buildings, preservationists remain crushed.
“I just feel so frustrated,” said Victoria Hofmo, a member of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church. “I can’t see why none of these things will work. Why people can’t be more flexible?”