107-year-old Harlem Church Reborn As Arts center

February 11, 2014

church10u-1-webA Harlem holy house is about to get a new life. St. Thomas the Apostle Church on W. 118th St. near St. Nicholas Ave. will be converted into a community arts center, and housing will be built in the church’s school and a nearby vacant lot.

Manhattan Community Board 10 signed off on a request by Artimus, the development group that’s fueling the rebirth of the 107-year-old church, to build a portion of the housing structure 10 stories — two floors higher than the current zoning permits.

Artimus dished out $6 million in 2012 for the neo-Gothic church constructed by Thomas Henry Poole, its school and a nearby lot, and promised to preserve the church’s façade and interior.

“The completion of the restoration (of the church) is dependent on being able to move new residential development away from the church site to other portions of the lot,” Ken Haron, president of Artimus, wrote in a letter to the community board. Haron did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Construction has begun, but it is unclear when the project will be complete.

The lot and the school will become a 147-unit complex with 20% affordable housing; 74 units will be in a newly constructed 10-story building on a W. 117th St., 73 more will be built in the St. Thomas School building. The building is currently occupied by the Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which has a two-year lease. Seventy parking spots will be built beneath the building.

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St. Thomas the Apostle School in Harlem and a nearby lot are slated to be redeveloped as housing

The sweet spot of the project for locals, though, is the community space, which will house an arts group.

“One of the things we try to do is talk to the developer to see what they can give back to the community,” said Board 10 chairwoman Henrietta Lyle. “This project seems to be very community minded.”

Artimus met recently with local arts groups and is in conversations with Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. Opus 118 did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear how much the community space will cost.

Preservationists saved the church — which suffered from a dwindling congregation and growing structural problems — from demolition after it had been vacant since 2003. From 2000 to 2004 efforts to landmark the church, including a push by former Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, fell flat.

The church was determined to be “in a deteriorated condition that made it ineligible for landmark designation,” said Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Heather McCracken.

Redevelopment was the church’s only shot at revival, but those prospects soured after the 2008 economic crash, said Ann Friedman, director of Sacred Sites for the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

“I think we’re going to see more of that,” Friedman said. “We felt community re-use of at least some of the church was better than seeing it demolished.” Source

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