Greenpoint residents will make their case to a Manhattan Supreme Court judge Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to save Park Church from the wrecking ball.
The century-old Lutheran church that abuts leafy McGolrick Park served as a vibrant community space, featuring theater, music, and dance performances, as well as an affordable day care, soup kitchen, and a homeless shelter, for more than a decade before the facility closed last year.
On Thursday afternoon, Judge Richard Latin will hear from community opponents about why they contend an impending sale of the property to a private developer should be blocked. They’ll lay out an alternative vision for the church as a renovated community and events space they’re calling Commonplace — and they’ve found a resident willing to match the $4.7 million paid by a developer last fall, according to Jamie Hook, one of the activists leading the charge.
“This was one space that was somewhat insulated from the madness of development that is going on in the neighborhood,” said Hook, a 54-year-old film and theater producer.
Hook acknowledged he’s not overly optimistic about what Thursday’s court hearing might bring. “I just simply move forward with the understanding that if we do nothing, we know what happens,” he said.
Under state law, nonprofits and religious organizations need a green light from the attorney general or a state judge in order to sell their real estate.
The Metropolitan New York Synod, which oversees Lutheran churches in the region, asked New York State Attorney General Tish James’ office to approve their sale of the church after they’d signed it over to Avraham Garbo and Berish Wagschal of GW Equities LLC last fall. But James’ office punted the matter to a state court, according to a petition filed in June by the Synod.
In a July 13 letter written by Assistant Attorney General Colleen McGrath explaining the move, McGrath said James wanted to make the court aware of the complaints ahead of any decision to approve the sale, and requested Thursday’s hearing.
“The Attorney General’s Charities Bureau has received a number of complaints objecting to the proposed sale of the Property due to its perceived negative impact on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn community, where the Property is located,” she wrote.
She added: “the Attorney General has no objection to the approval.”
James’ office declined to comment to THE CITY ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
The developer couldn’t be reached for comment. Roberto Lara, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan New York Synod, said the sale followed “careful evaluation.”
“This decision was made due to declining worship attendance and safety concerns with the building’s structure,” Lara added.
Churches of many denominations have been leveled or renovated to make way for luxury housing across Brooklyn’s hottest housing markets. GW Equities’ intentions for the site are not yet clear. The Lutheran Church has cashed in on properties it owned in Park Slope, Bushwick and Bay Ridge in recent years, amid declining congregations.
Emilie Baltz, a 44-year-old creative director who’s also involved in efforts to launch Commonplace in the space, described the unique spot Park Church has held for multiple generations of Greenpointers.
When Baltz was younger, she recalled attending No Lights No Lycra dance parties and shows of all kinds, everything from “punk shows to ecclesiastical music.” Later when her son was born, she got to know families whose kids attended the day care there.
“It was an intergenerational place to gather,” Baltz said. “That’s what made that community so rich and strong is that there was that kind of ability to mix and meet your elders; kids see each other outside of the home environment. There’s a lot of growth and development that comes from that.”
For Hook, one evening near Christmas in 2018 summed up the importance of the space, he recalled.
A performance of an experimental Christmas play he’d put on had just wrapped up. The play’s premise was “philosophical proof for the existence of Santa Claus presented to a panel of skeptical children.” Hook had made borscht for the crowd and had leftovers, so he brought it down to the homeless shelter in the basement where a Polish man received it warmly, calling it a Christmas miracle.
“That’s what was possible with the church,” he said.