Parishioners Make a Plea, Offer a Plan to Save Their Battery Park City Church

After last Sunday's service, Fr. Jarlath Quinn waits outside St. Joseph's Chapel to greet his congregants. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 12, 2017

They might not have a prayer. But last Sunday, after struggling for months to save their church, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Chapel in Battery Park City publicly announced a new plan—and perhaps final hope-—to preserve their parish in the Gateway Plaza apartment complex.

Following a noon service—what they feared could be their last—the church members stood outside their tiny Catholic chapel to present the request they have made to the Battery Park City Authority: Take over the the 3,300-square-foot space and repurpose it into an interfaith and community center that is part Battery Park City memorial to 9/11.

The authority owns the land beneath the property and leases it to the building’s owner, LeFrak, the chapel’s landlord. The rent more than tripled in 2013 and has become unsustainable for the congregation. Though the lease expires in March 2019, the parishioners say the archdiocese, which has subsidized the rent, wants to end it by the end of the year.

“[The authority] has deep pockets, they collect lots of taxes and theyve got a lot of money,” said Justine Cuccia, a parishioner and Battery Park City activist who is leading the fight. “We hope that they would be the entity that would step up and work with LeFrak and take over the space and keep it running.”

The parishioners were encouraged by recent news that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has given the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (to be known as the St. Nicholas Shrine at the World Trade Center) a 198-year, dollar-a-year lease on its publicly owned land, with an option to acquire it. Like the Port Authority property, which is across the street from the World Trade Center, the Battery Park City site is also public land.

Cuccia said both LeFrak and the authority have been very helpful in trying to preserve the chapel and that LeFrak, who had raised the annual rent from $75,000 to nearly $300,000 in 2013, has offered to reduce the rent to about $200,000.

Its just not low enough," Cuccia said. So we're looking for Plan B.

The Battery Park City Authority is a state-run agency. A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred questions about the request to the authority, who provided this brief statement: “The lease at Gateway Plaza is currently under review by the Battery Park City Authority Board.”

LeFrak did not respond to a request for comment.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, just across the street, the chapel was used as a command station for first responders and a place of respite for recovery workers. Its interior torn out, it was restored and reopened on the first anniversary of 9/11. Statues of saints and stained glass windows were added as symbolic embodiments of the first responders and as objects of spiritual reflection on that day.  The chapel, a mission of St. Peters Church on Barclay Street, was rededicated as the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero and advocates say that history should be preserved.

“One of the first things these families saw when they were brought down here on boats by the Fire Department was this beautiful chapel,” said Sally Regenhard, a 9/11 families activist who lost her firefighter son on that day. “It was the only beautiful, comforting thing that we saw. Across the street was the pit of death and doom and St. Joseph’s Chapel was a place where 9/11 families found some comfort and some hope that they would get through this.”

“It’s a beautiful and iconic remembrance,” she added, “and it’s something that should not be destroyed.”