Greek Church to Sue Port Authority Over Land for Rebuilding

By Matt Dunning

28/12/2010

Greek Church to Sue Port Authority Over Funding and Land for Rebuilding

Leaders of the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, once seated at the foot of the World Trade Center and destroyed on Sept. 11, are hoping the threat of a lawsuit will force the Port Authority to honor a deal it struck in 2008 to rebuild the church.

Earlier this month, St. Nicholas parish leaders and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America notified Port Authority attorneys that they would sue the agency if it does not resume negotiations for funding a rebuilt church on or near the church’s original site on Cedar Street. The two sides have had little contact in more than a year.

The Port Authority has 60 days to settle the matter before it is referred to a State Supreme Court judge.

“The bottom line is that we need to protect our legal rights,” said Parish Council president John Couloucoundis. “We really don’t have a choice in the matter. We had to move forward after trying ad nauseam to bring them back to the table.”

The church came close to finalizing a deal with the Port Authority in July 2008. But after nine months of haggling over details, the Authority abruptly broke off negotiations, saying it had to start excavating the site for its underground Vehicle Security Center—currently under construction beneath the land where the church once stood—or risk falling further behind in developing the site. There has been virtually no discussion between the two sides ever since.

“They’re trespassing, it’s that simple,” Couloucoundis said.

Port Authority spokesman John Kelly said the agency would not comment on the details of the church’s complaint, but said the agency hopes to “sit down with representatives of the Orthodox Church to develop a solution that works in their interest” and doesn’t hold up construction at the site.

“We believe all parts of this complex project will reach positive resolution including the return of the church to its original home,” Kelly said.

After years of negotiations, the Port Authority offered the church a plot of land at the corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets and up to $60 million to build a new church in July 2008. In exchange, the agency would absorb the congregation’s original plot at 155 Cedar Street, which it needs for an above-ground entry into the Vehicle Security Center. The church agreed in principal to the deal. But in the ensuing nine months, that agreement began to unravel. In an email to the Trib, Kelly said it was the church representatives who caused the negotiations to break down.

“We worked hard to come to what we thought was a very generous agreement with Church representatives,” Kelly wrote. “Unfortunately, after nine months of negotiations in which the demands of the Orthodox Church continued to increase over and above what we originally agreed to in 2008, we had to make a practical decision to move on or risk further delaying the World Trade Center project.”

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