With jackhammers and bricklayers silent for more than a year at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine at the World Trade Center– the Port Authority, which is responsible for the area around Ground Zero– is getting restless.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America missed multi-million dollar payments to Skanksa, the main contractor on the Church building last year and a padlock was placed at the gate of the construction site.
The inactivity has spooked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owners of the land on which St. Nicholas rests and responsible for much of the development in the area.
In a letter penned to Archbishop Demetrios and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Port Authority’s executive director Rick Cotton offered his agency’s support “to expedite the completion of the church.”
The letter didn’t overtly mention financial support, instead offering to serve as a facilitator on construction, project management or even re-design.
“I am open to a number of options to assist the Greek community in completing the project. The Port Authority could facilitate construction based on appropriate commitments or could assemble a group to take over construction. We could also assist with redesign of the project to make it financially feasible. If completion is not possible, we would assist in any way possible to find an alternative configuration to complete the project,” Mr. Cotton told the Church leaders in his letter.
He added that he has spoken to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, “who feels deeply and passionately about the project” and together with Cotton, “hoped that the Greek Church would find a resolution over these past many months.”
Due to what Cotton called a “lack of progress” on the project, both the Governor and the Port Authority extend this offer of assistance.
*The Port Authority shared a copy of the letter sent to Archbishop Demetrios with The Pappas Post, shared in its entirety below.
Cotton’s letter dated November 6, 2018 to Archbishop Demetrios and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
There is a matter of mutual concern that I would like to discuss and hopefully resolve. As you know, construction of the St. Nicholas Church has been stalled which has caused great hardship to the Greek community, the surrounding neighborhood, and deprived the millions of tourists who visit the 9/11 site the enjoyment and symbolism of a completed St. Nicholas Church and interfaith center.
As you recall, the original St. Nicholas was the only place of worship on the original 9/11 grounds and was completely destroyed. Over the next approximately dozen years, there were various conversations between the Port Authority and the Greek community about rebuilding the church.
The Port Authority, under previous leadership, posted a significant number of obstacles to the church’s completion. Upon taking office, Governor Cuomo made the St. Nicholas restoration a top priority. The Port Authority and the Archdiocese agreed to a new, larger, more accessible site central to the new 9/11 complex. After overcoming many challenges, construction began on what we all hoped would be a significant addition to not only the physical location but the symbolism and sanctity of the site.
Unfortunately, the Greek Church experienced financial issues that halted construction and have left us with a partially constructed building for what will soon be one year. While we all anticipated the new church would be an asset to the overall development and a symbol of aspiration, it is now incongruous to the complex as it sits dormant and has failed to fulfill its initial inspiration.
My goal and hope is to expedite the completion of the church as it affects the totality of the neighborhood and would like to help close this chapter of confusion and discord for the Greek community.
I am open to a number of options to assist the Greek community in completing the project. The Port Authority could facilitate construction based on appropriate commitments or could assemble a group to take over construction. We could also assist with redesign of the project to make it financially feasible. If completion is not possible, we would assist in any way possible to find an alternative configuration to complete the project. In any event, I believe we can all agree that the status quo cannot continue as it is a negative for all involved.
I spoke to Governor Cuomo, who feels deeply and passionately about the project. We both have hoped that the Greek Church would find a resolution over these past many months but due to the lack of progress, extend this offer to be of assistance.
I would like to meet with both of you at your convenience to see how we can conclude this matter.
Cc: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
State of New York
Archbishop Demetrios’ Response: Thanks, but No Thanks
After receiving Cotton’s letter, Archbishop Demetrios responded a week later with gratitude– and politely declined the Port Authority and the Governor’s offer to support. The Archbishop’s full response:
Dear Mr. Cotton,
I received your letter of November 6th and thank you for sharing your concerns about the current status of our St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. Be assured that no one is more concerned about the interruption of construction than myself. Since the destruction of this house of worship on September 11, 2001, it has been a priority of the Archdiocese, and myself personally, to see that the church is rebuilt not simply to meet the needs of our faithful who have worshiped there for decades, but also as a symbol of dynamic “rebirth” after the terrorist attack.
Moreover, in all of our conversations starting with then Governor Pataki and all the governors up to Governor Cuomo, who has been decisively supportive of the project, we have indicated our desire to open the building for visitors from all over the world to perhaps offer a silent prayer and to reflect on the tragic events of that day. It will as well include a “bereavement center” in which channels of communication between different Faith communities can be strengthened and reconciliation enhanced. We view St. Nicholas as our offering to the greater community and a fitting tribute to all those lost on 9/11!
As Mr. George Tsandikos, Vice President of the Archdiocesan Council, Bishop Andonios, Archdiocese Chancellor and I explained to you at a meeting shortly after your appointment, we discovered in 2017 the mismanagement of the finances of the Archdiocese that not only impacted the operation of the national Church but as well the rebuilding of St. Nicholas. Much to our dismay and surprise it was discovered that by the end of December 2017, approximately $8.5 million was owed to contractors and others for work which had been completed on the St. Nicholas project.
In light of this challenge, immediate actions were taken to address what had occurred and thanks be to God, the Archdiocese has stabilized Her finances and fulfilled all past due obligations. To get to this point required dramatic cutbacks, careful controls on spending and a bank loan to address legacy obligations.
While it appears to you and others outside of the Archdiocese that nothing has been going on as relates to St. Nicholas, please know that nothing can be further from the truth. The Archdiocese returned all borrowed monies to the St. Nicholas fund and by the end of this year we will have a zero outstanding balance to those who have worked on the church to date.
As I write this letter to you, the Archdiocese is appointing a capable Board of Trustees (please see attached Addendum) which will be responsible for overseeing not only the future operation of the church and shrine, but also managing the completion of the edifice. In addition to members from the original parish, ex-officio representatives of the various national organizations of our community and other exemplary members of our Church, I am pleased to share with you that amongst those appointees is Mr. Richard Browne (Sterling Enterprises) who is known to you. Along with his partner, Mr. Jeff Wilpon who has offered the services of his firm to oversee the construction, Mr. Browne brings to the table an impeccable reputation and extensive construction knowledge much needed to complete the project. The involvement of people of his caliber should allay any residual concerns anyone should have regarding their future participation in supporting the reconstruction.
We have also incorporated an independent fund-raising entity, “The Friends of St. Nicholas”, whose sole purpose will be to raise the funds necessary to complete the construction and interior decoration of the building. This entity will be under the oversight of the Board of Trustees and will include distinguished members of our Archdiocese from across the nation. It is our conviction that this new and autonomous arrangement will restore confidence within the community and that they will be most successful in their endeavors.
Throughout all the difficulties this past year and a half, the one recurrent comment heard from the lay and ordained leadership of the Church time-and-time-again is that St. Nicholas must be completed. We believe wholeheartedly that the project is on the right course and that construction will resume in the not too distant future.
We truly regret the delay in completing the church but as Director of the Port Authority you know too well the challenges the Port Authority encountered from 2001 until the recent past. Many projects were delayed in their completion for one reason or another and just as the Port Authority overcame those hurdles, we are confident that the Archdiocese will do the same so that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine will be a jewel adorning the World Trade Center.
Finally, I am available if you still feel that a meeting would be of benefit.
With high esteem,
+DEMETRIOS Archbishop of America
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