Landmarked religious institutions look to sell air rights

September 27, 2012 4:07:42 AM PDT
New York City wants to re-zone Midtown East from 39th to 57th streets and Second to Fifth avenues to allow for taller buildings.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes the incentives will lead to the demolition of outdated offices, but some religious institutions want a piece of the development pie.

The City Planning scoping session is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, when representatives from St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral will be pushing to modify the proposal so they could sell air rights to developers and reap the benefits.

For years, landmark institutions have been barred from selling precious air rights. St. Pat's has a million square feet, while St. Bart's has 650,000. At $200 a square foot, the money would be significant.

St. Patrick's is in the middle of a massive renovation project, inside and out.

"The entire building is being repointed, and the windows are being fixed, and the outside and inside of the cathedral are being brought up to snuff," St. Patrick's rector Monsignor Robert Ritchie said. "That's going to cost us over $175 million."

St. Bart's also has a number of capitol improvement projects that it is required to do because of its landmark status. Selling its air rights would pay for the repairs and then some.

"It would be enough for us to restore and then conserve and preserve this place for many, many generations," the Reverend Buddy Stallings said. "And it's what we've needed."

Under the current plan, the only landmarked building that would be able to sell its air rights is Grand Central Terminal, with roughly 1 million square feet of them.

In addition to St. Pat's and St. Bart's, Central Synagogue would also benefit from re-zoning and the ability to sell their air rights.

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