Fort Greene church beside controversial condo tower site to be sold for $15M

historic fort greene church
Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church is set to be sold for $15 million.
Photo by Susan De Vries

Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church, on the corner of Fort Greene’s St. Felix Street and Hanson Place, is in contract to be sold to developer Watermark Capital Group for $15 million, court records show.

The church is the latest religious building to be eyed by the developer, which recently purchased and demolished Bed-Stuy’s historic St. Lucy-St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church. (Watermark’s David Tabak is also behind a proposed rezoning to develop housing over a rail line in Borough Park.)

shot of fort greene church from street
The church’s congregation has been dwindling, and is in need of expensive repairs. Photo by Susan De Vries

The Fort Greene deal, first reported by PincusCo, was struck February 28, and awaits approval from the New York State attorney general.

The church sits inside the Brooklyn Academy of Music Historic District, which means any changes planned for the historic building or site would have to go through the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Designed by Halsey, McCormack and Helmer — the same architects who designed the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower next door at 1 Hanson Place — the neo-Gothic church was constructed as the Central Methodist Episcopal Church. The building at 144 St. Felix Street includes extensive use of terra-cotta ornament and tile work on the interior and exterior from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company. Its cornerstone was put in place in December 1929.

Representatives from the church said in their petition to sell the building that over the last decade the congregation has dwindled and costs to maintain the property have increased. “The property needs costly structural maintenance, repairs, and improvements,” and it has been vacant since 2019 because it is no longer safe to use, according to the petition. Services are currently being held at Grace United Methodist Church at 33 7th Avenue in Park Slope.

The church has racked up violations and complaints in recent years, according to city records, and the Department of Buildings has ordered stabilization and facade repairs that have not been made, court documents show.

exterior of hanson place methodist church
The Department of Buildings has ordered structural repairs that have not been made, records show.Photo by Susan De Vries

The property has almost 100,000 square feet of unused FAR, and the $15 million sale price implies Watermark Capital Group plans a development on the site. But the church extends almost to the edge of its property, leaving no space for an adjacent build, which would be more likely to meet with Landmarks approval than a demolition or stories on top of the church.

Watermark Capital Group did not respond to request for comment. 

Behind the church is a parking lot where plans for a controversial condo tower have not moved forward. After the LPC signed off on the design, the City Council approved plans for the 23-story apartment building at 130 St. Felix St., including affordable condos and space for the Brooklyn Music School, in October 2021.

Lawsuits followed, but were dismissed, and since then developer Gotham Organization has not applied for a new-building permit for the site, and no work has started. The project missed the cutoff to receive the 421-a tax abatement, and interest rates have risen since the project was approved. In 2020, the developer applied to New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation for brownfield cleanup for the site, which at one time was a gas station.

This week, the property narrowly avoided a foreclosure auction. City records show Gotham Organization, which purchased the site for $5.5 million in 2015, was issued a $3,053 tax lien in October 2021.

rendering of 130 st. felix street
A rendering of plans for 130 St. Felix St., which sits directly behind the church. Rendering courtesy of FXCollaborative via NY Landmarks Commission

The lien was never paid off and grew to $6,883.74, plus interest and costs, resulting in a notice of sale issued by Kings County Supreme Court in January, which set a foreclosure auction date of March 7. While the auction is still listed on the court’s calendar for Thursday, a rep for Gotham said the lien has been paid in full and the auction canceled. The spokesperson did not immediately have a comment on how the planned sale of the church might affect plans for 130 St. Felix St. 

Local residents who oppose the development formed Preserve BAMs Historic District to challenge both the developer’s plans and the LPC’s approval of them in court. Group member Charles Cohen said there is still a chance further action will be pursued through appeals.

Meanwhile, Susan Spiller, another Preserve BAMs Historic District member, said she had approached LPC about designating the Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church as an individual landmark in the past, but had been told it is already protected because it is in the historic district.

This story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner