Thursday, December 4, 2008

Green Church demolished for nothing

Two years ago, developer Abe Betesh gladly signed a $9.75-million deal to buy the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church property. But now that the wrecking ball has demolished the historic 1899 building, it appears his plans have been knocked down, too.

At the site of the “green church” destroyed in mid-October, Betesh has posted a “For Sale or Lease” sign this week, the same week the site, at Fourth and Ovington avenues, was featured in a New York Times article about preservation of houses of worship in the city.

“Houses of Worship Choosing to Avoid Landmark Status” by Robin Pogrebin featured two front-page photos of the former 109-year-old church. A dramatic huge color photo shows the church building under demolition at dawn in October, and a small black-and-white photo from the Brooklyn Eagle shows the church in excellent shape some two or three decades ago.

The Bensonhurst-based firm of Abeco Management Corporation, headed by Betesh, posted the sign with Abeco’s phone number. The sign reads: “For Sale or Lease – School, Medical, Not-for-Profit or Residential.”

‘Green Church’ Co-op Plans Fall Through


Miles Mullin said...

Thank you Sacred Sites Program. Well at least you did not talk to the developer and give him a green light like you did in Astoria.

(pun intended)

Anonymous said...

We certainly have gone far in preservation in the past decade.

Remember Grandma Shulman and the Aquacade back in the 90s?

She justfied destroying it and leaving the site empty " ... until an appropriate use be found FOR THE SLAB."

faster340 said...

It's for sale now because he would be a fool to try and build anything and make money from it. No one would buy anything built on it but the land would be easier to sell!

Bunch of greedy F!@#$s!!!

Curious Guy said...

Objectively speaking ... "For nothing" assumes that the deal's whole reason has gone bust.
But it hasn't, since the point was so that these people could build a new church, turn nonliquid assets into something useable, and not funnel all their bucks into repairs.
That hasn't changed - because other news sources say a Betesh flip wouldn't affect the church's parcel, and a new church building is still on track.

Realistically, the alternatives-to-Betesh were ... what? Because I recall that
#1, the church nixed the non-Betesh (building-saving) developers, since they offered less $ or required that the church bear risk of some $-loss and delay.
#2, no one offered to rescue and actually use the old building.
Developers like an empty lot. Even the non-Betesh guys just wanted the empty space; they'd have saved part of the church as "goodwill." And the community groups that could've used the old building had no money.
#3, the church people couldn't just stay in the old place, since they couldn't afford repairs and maintenance.
The place eventually would've become a dump (frankly, it looked kinda seedy even when it was occupied). If it became unuseable or they went broke, they'd have had to leave anyway, sell (cheaply) under duress, and maybe have their congregation fall apart while they futzed around deciding what to do.
#4, even if it were a N.Y.C. Landmark (which it wasn't), that wouldn't be an automatic rescue. It costs more to maintain an Official Landmark (since NYCL requires special repairs), _yet_ there are minimal-to-pitiful landmark-fixing funds available.
It's not unheard-of for some N.Y.C. Landmark to become a crumbling orphan, due to lack of $.
#5, though this furor went on forever and got lots of p.r., no big donors came forth - either to buy and save the building, or to help the church preserve and continue to use it.

So any alternative would've required big money from a VIP or huge fundraising effort (which didn't happen), or making the church work against its perceived interests (which really isn't fair).

Anonymous said...

The church could have sold it to a thriving religous group.

1. Remember, this is donated.
2. Religion is thriving in USA
3. If a church is failing, its their fault. Pass it on to someone who knows what to do with it.

Curious Guy said...

Anonymous said: "The church could have sold it to a thriving religous group.
"1. Remember, this is donated.
"2. Religion is thriving in USA
"3. If a church is failing, its their fault. Pass it on to someone who knows what to do with it."

Those arguments don't fly, since
1. - It wasn't a generic "donation" for you, me, and anybody with a belief system. Religious people give for the purposes of their specific faith group. They have say in what happens, since its their private property, and they've paid its bills while your & my spare income has gone someplace else.

2. - Not all US religion is thriving. Extreme-conservatives (in every religion) are thriving. So are Wiccans and New Age (nonchurchy-spiritualist) groups; and the # of agnostics & atheists has boomed. But everyone else is having major problems.
In this case: These people felt they could better serve their purpose via a smaller, eco-friendly place + money for programs (instead of having all their bucks & energy go to repairs).
A lot of religious places - all over - face similar problems & will have to make similar decisions.

3. - If a church offered to buy it, we'd all have known. But few churches are willing, or rich enough, to take on a building that needs significant repairs or overhaul ... esp when the place already has become a hot issue.
There's also no guarantee that a new "church owner" would've preserved the place, or not flipped it, when it drained _their_ bank account.
And it's crazy to suggest that these guys should've just "pass[ed] it on" to somebody else - presumably at deep discount or for free. They wanted to keep doing their work, but needed the $ to (a) rebuild, and (b) fund programs they thought were important. They'd have needed $ even to move and buy elsewhere.
If they gave the place away, they'd have vaporized. If they sold it at discount, they'd have been spitting at previous donors (who gave $ for that specific church's work - whose importance preceded any building).
For that matter, a giveaway/discount also might have become a "gift" to some religious group whose values they strongly opposed.

Religious property is property like anyone else's. Donors would be pissed if a NONreligious charity diverted its assets to some totally unrelated group - as a gift, or at discount - and maybe jeopardized its goals or existence ... esp. if the purpose was to please a third party (i.e., you & me) who never put a cent into the joint, and didn't bear any of the risk.

Curious Guy said...

PS - If you think that churches should sink & swim on their own: Push to get rid of
- all religious tax exemptions, and
- all faith-based govt funding for religions' alleged-nonreligious health and social-service subunits.

Because that stuff
- is a life-support system for many mostly-dead congregations, and keeps them from trying harder;
- has created some groups' vast "religious" wealth and real-estate/other empires;
- has made some religious groups overdepend on govt funding (and reshape themselves to get it), or stifle their speech (to avoid losing tax-exemption);
- lets "religion" get huge credit and mega-p.r. for social-service efforts that - in fact - are largely funded by taxpayers (who also pay higher property taxes, to make up for all those tax-exempt religious sites).
- lets religious groups benefit from tax-free-ness and taxpayer $ ... then (in too many cases) twist politicians' arms, encourage The Faithful to oppose things that many/most taxpayers want, demand exemption from some normative rule, or try to spin their sectarian agenda into law (and impose it on everyone).

Your work is cut out for you ... and, uh, good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Adaptive reuse is not out of the question. They didn't even try this route before selling to a developer.

Anonymous said...

Where in this article does it say the developer is going to rebuild the church now that the property it sat on is for sale?

AnonyToo said...

Anon sez - "Where in this article does it say the developer is going to rebuild the church now that the property it sat on is for sale?"

The church’s lot is separate from the developer’s. Go to

Another Anon sez - "Adaptive reuse is not out of the question. They didn't even try this route before selling to a developer."

Disagree. The church rejected three plans, which I found at
All were advocated BY preservationists, and included one (if weak) adaptive-reuse plan.

In general, it looks like all three plans bombed, churchwise, since they required that the church give up property control or take a loss (of income or assets), alter its goals, and-or be permanently dependent on some outside "tenant" -- while enriching developers/third parties.

One plan required that -- for $300k/year -- the church forego $9.75 mill sales profits, permanently give up property control, and keep/maintain its problematic old building.

Two plans involved lower-income/affordable senior housing -- but what’s “lower-income/affordable” in NYC, and for how long? So the church could’ve kissed off higher profits for those deals' sake, only to have them benefit the affluent.

Another plan would’ve given the church less money and made it tenant-dependent, without even really preserving the old building (!!!?): The developer would have saved just “MOST OF” the FACADE (and “most of” is far too subjective), and crowded the site with two kinds of senior housing, new church, old facade, and a med facility. To me, it just sounded like Son Of Betesh, but with a chunk of church wall.

Only one plan involved adaptive reuse, almost as an afterthought. The developer would have spared the church, but wouldn’t do any rehab. FIRST, some unknown nonprofit would first have to adopt the building, THEN would have to seek its own rehab funding “over time," which is 'way vague. I mean: no nonprofit was mentioned, and the building could’ve stewed in adopter-and-fundseeking limbo, patch-jobs and squabbling, while the senior-housing and church tried to build and function around it.

So it’s not that they “didn’t try this [adaptive] route.” The church-saving group itself tried, but didn’t have a more specific, rehab-inclusive plan. It also looks like groups and people with money weren’t busting down the door to buy the place, or to buy, preserve, and move it somewhere.
I also wouldn’t expect any congregation to give away its only asset, or sell at self-destructive low cost, just to make me and the neighbors happy -- since it’d fold without the money, and the property represents money that people entrusted to the church.

Anonymous said...

"The church’s lot is separate from the developer’s."

Once again, where in this article does it say that Betesh still plans to build them a new church?

AnonyToo said...

'where in this article does it say that Betesh still plans to build them a new church?'

The article doesn't say, but the church & Betesh properties are separate. The church can build on its lot no matter what Betesh does, though presumably (since I obviously haven't seen their contract) he might have to make good on some costs.

If your concern is that the place can't/won't rebuild - it got its $9.75 million, and according to news archives: It earmarked $3.5 million for a new building; and Jan '08 court approval for the sale was contingent on using proceeds to build a new church, provide for its operation, and fund other religious purposes.

As I see it, if it didn't want to rebuild, it could've gotten court OK to sell the whole thing to Betesh, then dissolved the congregation. It would have made more money, plus avoided need to re-shop the lot and get another court OK. That wouldn't have caused any more ruckus than the part-sale did, since preservationists focused on saving the building (not the congregation).
It also would be nuts for the church to - now - decide against rebuilding, unload its lot in a depressed market, or maintain an empty-lot nuisance.

Anyway - Betesh clearly wants to flip his property since his plans look risky in a post-R.E.-crash/pro-rental/anti-owner environment.
Churches don't have the same worries, and looks like that place has done fine. It sold pre-crash and has ample dough to rebuild (especially now, when so many builders could use the work). And even when the controversy-flak was really flying, it was super-adamant about staying in Bay Ridge.

Anonymous said...

If Betesh were a savvy developer, he would have left the Green Church intact, renovated it, and converted it into condos.

There is a big market for these types of places in good neighborhoods like Bay Ridge. As for not caring about the congregation, just as at Astoria Presbyterian, many in the flock fled when they found out the plans the leader had in mind, objected and were told to go jump in a lake.

The fact is that if the church sought landmark protection, it would open up the door for public and private grants to fix it. (Let's remember that they already don't pay taxes.) It also would have opened up preservationists' wallets - they tend to be wealthy and surely would have supported the effort if fundraisers were held. But they weren't.