It took a decade and a series of set-backs, a lawsuit and the mobilization of a whole Community, but at the end a deal has been signed on Friday, between New York State Governor Mario Cuomo and Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, to rebuild the church of St Nicholas that was destroyed on 9/11.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had been at odds over the details of a land swap that will move the church slightly down the street to make way for some of the giant construction projects now under way at Ground Zero.
According to an AP dispatch, under the deal, the Port Authority will pay for site – work and below – ground infrastructure. The cost of that work is estimated to be about $25 million, according to the governor’s office. The archdiocese will pay for the construction of the chapel. The new church will be about 3½ times as large as the old one, and also house a nondenominational bereavement center.
Governor Andrew Cuomo invited Archbishop Demetrios and the Hierarchs of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, together with leadership of the St. Nicholas Parish and the Archdiocesan Council to his New York City office for the official signing of the agreement by Archdiocesan Council ViceChairman Michael Jaharis and Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward. Archbishop Demetrios and Governor Cuomo signed as the formal witnesses to the agreement.
The agreement permits the rebuilding of the Church with a nondenominational bereavement center at the east end of Liberty Park, at 130 Liberty Street. The agreement follows a four-month independent engineering study commissioned by the Port Authority and the Archdiocese, which found that the Church could be built on the site with minor modifications to the original plan and with no impact on the World Trade Center construction schedule.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said, “We lost St. Nicholas Church in the destruction of September 11 and for too long its future has been uncertain. Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church, with a nondenominational bereavement center, is not just good news for the Greek Orthodox community, but for all New Yorkers. With this agreement, we are continuing New York’s collective healing, restoration, and resurgence. Now we are finally returning this treasured place of reflection to where it belongs.”
Archbishop Demetrios said, “We are grateful to our esteemed Governor and precious friend Andrew Cuomo for bringing to reality the dream we have nourished for ten long years.
St. Nicholas Church, rising again with the help of God at Ground Zero – where it stood spiritually important for 85 years, is an affirmation of the significance of religious freedom and experience for all New Yorkers and all Americans. The covenant stands firm. We will again light many candles in the new St. Nicholas Church and remember those who were lost to us, and those heroes who so nobly sacrificed their lives.
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.”
The Archbishop also expressed deep appreciation to Michael Jaharis and Dennis Mehiel and the other members of the joint committee who had labored so diligently to accomplish this historic agreement.
Very active behind the scenes were George Tsunis, John Catsimatidis, Fr Alex Karloutsos and above all, Senator Robert Menendez. Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said, “I am delighted that we were able to find a way to rebuild the Church with no impact on the construction schedule at the World Trade Center. The Church is an important and appropriate addition to the site, and will serve New Yorkers of all faiths for generations to come.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said, “Today is a very historic day for the members of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and the entire Greek American community. As the grandson of Greek immigrants, I have worked for years to ensure that this church was rebuilt, and thanks to Archbishop Demetrios, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and countless others, we have finally achieved that reality. Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero will stand as a strong and hopeful symbol to the world of the revitalization of New York and a fitting reminder of the spiritual journey we have taken together since 9/11.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg who supported from the beginning the efforts of the Greek Community said:
“The destruction of St. Nicholas Church added to the tragedy of September 11th and was a terrible loss for the Lower Manhattan and Greek Orthodox communities. Over the past ten years, we have made great progress rebuilding the World Trade Center, but it is an extraordinarily complex site, and rebuilding the church has proved a challenge. In 2009, Archbishop Demetrios sought my help in convening the Port Authority and State leadership to work on a solution, and I was glad to be of assistance.
Now, thanks to cooperation between all parties, a plan has been put in place that will give the community a new sanctuary and place for healing.”
Joe Daniels, President and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, said, “Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church is an important part of reclaiming what we lost on September 11, 2001. The Church will serve as a place of remembrance and unity. I thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership in this process and for making sure that the Church has a beautiful new home that will serve all New Yorkers.”
Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John Katsimatides on 9/11 and is a Board Member of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, said, “My brother John used to visit St. Nicholas Church and found it to be a place of comfort and reflection. I hope that with the church’s return, it will serve as a place of spiritual solace to people of all faiths who come to pay tribute at the 9/11 Memorial. I thank Governor Cuomo for his work to ensure that this matter has been resolved.”.
ALMOST 4 TIMES LARGER
The original Church, located at 155 Cedar Street, was founded by Greek immigrants in 1916 and occupied a 1,200 square foot building. The new Church will be 4,100 square feet. The rebuilt Church will also house a nondenominational bereavement center and serve as a venue for interfaith dialogue. The siting of the Church will have no impact on the World Trade Center site construction schedule.
Negotiations between the Church and the Port Authority to rebuild St. Nicholas broke down in 2009 and resulted in litigation in 2011. As a result of settlement discussions mediated by the Governor’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 Peter Lehrer, a nationally renowned construction expert, 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 reduced cost compared to the original agreement and with no delay to construction at the World Trade Center site.
Under the agreement, the Port Authority will be responsible for below – ground infrastructure costs and the Archdiocese will be responsible for all costs related to the aboveground construction of the Church. The Church is agreeing to swap its 155 Cedar Street land for the rights to the Liberty Street parcel. Under the agreement, there will be no payments made by the Port Authority to the Church. The agreement announced today will result in termination of the litigation upon approval of the Port Authority board.
In the wake of the announcement of the agreement between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Archdiocesan Council, in its semi-annual meeting in New York City, responded with a jubilant and prolonged standing ovation. The unanimous sense of the Archdiocesan Council was of great joy and gratitude that St. Nicholas Church has finally found its place, after 10 years of waiting, in the new reality of Ground Zero.
Archbishop Demetrios made the announcement to the Archdiocesan Council in a robust and detailed report about the history of the process, highlighting the extraordinary role of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, under whose auspices negotiations between the Archdiocese and the Port Authority resumed in a substantive manner and came to this happy conclusion.
Detailing the history of all the developments surrounding the St. Nicholas Church, Archbishop Demetrios praised and expressed his deep gratitude to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Mayor continuously and unwaveringly supported and offered his personal encouragement for the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church. The Archbishop also expressed his sincere thanks to the former Governor of New York George Pataki, who days after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, made the initial commitment to rebuild St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero, and since that time continuously supported the efforts for the rebuilding of the church.
State Senator Michael Gianaris issued the following statement:
“For more than a decade, Greek – Americans have been without our place of worship in one of the most significant locations in this country. This long-awaited deal reminds the world of New York’s emphasis on religious freedom
and the value of reconstruction as we continue to remember all we lost on September 11th. I look forward to celebrating the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas with my fellow Greek – Americans and all New Yorkers. I thank the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Governor Cuomo and the Port Authority for their hard work to bring about today’s agreement.”
“As a Greek-American, I was thrilled to learn that a deal has been reached to rebuild St. Nicholas Church, an important symbol of our heritage which was a spiritual refuge for our community for decades. I am deeply grateful to Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Port Authority for coming to an agreement. I look forward to the opening of the new church, which will once again stand as an inspiring symbol of New York’s commitment to religious freedom.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R C–Brooklyn, Staten Island) issued the following statement: The Port Authority and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have announced an agreement on rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in lower Manhattan, marking the end of a ten year journey to restore the only house of worship to fall in the September 11th attacks.
This is an historic day for the Greek community that has filled the halls of this cathedral for generations and has fought so hard to see that their church would stand tall once again.
I commend Governor Cuomo, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the St. Nicholas Parish and the Port Authority for rebuilding this church, which is so important for not only our Greek community, but our city, state and nation.
This project is a testament to the American spirit and our refusal to give way to terrorists and other groups that try to destroy our way of life. I look forward to the day when we can all gather together once again at St. Nicholas to celebrate our community and our faith.
U.S. Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, applauded the agreement:
“I congratulate Governor Cuomo, Archbishop Demetrios, and Chairman Ward for their hard work to reach this agreement. Rebuilding t. Nicholas Church, along with the major progress underway at the World Trade Center site, will help complete our city’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks. St. Nicholas Church has been an important part of the Hellenic community for generations, but has also served as a place of respite, calm, and prayer for countless others in the
lower Manhattan community. I am delighted that this iconic Church will soon rise again,” said Rep. Maloney.
“The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has been ready, willing, and able to re – erect its beloved church for some time now and I am pleased that the Port Authority and New York City officials have reached this important and symbolic agreement to reconstruct St. Nicholas Church. As the only house of worship destroyed in the tragic attacks on 9/11, St. Nicholas not only serves as a house of prayer and worship for the Hellenic community, but is a reminder that the United States and its resounding faith cannot and will not be held down by those who wish to harm us. I look forward to the day that this church reopens its doors and the first post – 9/11 Divine Liturgy is celebrated,” said Rep. Bilirakis.
The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) also praised the agreement. “This agreement marks a historic moment for the Greek American community, which worked so diligently and with great passion to cut the red tape of bureaucracy and clear a path for St. Nicholas to be rebuilt,” Dr. Grossomanides said. “We are grateful for the efforts of Governor Andrew Cuomo, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, and the local, state, and federal officials past and present who shared our voice. We also commend all parties for coming together to reach an agreement that ends a decade of frustration and begins a future of revitalized hope that St. Nicholas will provide to all Americans.”
In support of the effort to rebuild St. Nicholas at 130 Liberty Street, a site chosen by the Port Authority, AHEPA held a Ground Zero rally on June 26, 2011. The organization also submitted more than 20,000 signatures collected via electronic petition to Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward that went unanswered.
Source: Greek News