Towering ambition: Trinity Church set to build after fight

By ISABEL VINCENT and MELISSA KLEIN
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/


OLD & NEW: Trinity Church plans to build this office and residential tower behind its historic downtown site.

The real-estate-obsessed rector of Trinity Church is sealing his dream deal – and altering the downtown skyline.

The board of the historic lower Manhattan church has approved a plan to demolish two Trinity-owned buildings and replace them with a residential and office tower.

The Rev. James Cooper’s development push was one of many sore points that led to a mass exodus of church board members two years ago. Cooper replaced the disgruntled vestry with his cronies, who late last month approved his grand vision.

The church hired the firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, headed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the designer of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan.

The firm’s conceptual plan shows a modern glass box of six to seven stories, which would house church offices and meeting rooms, topped by a 25-story residential tower. The project would total 296,000 square feet.

Trinity refused to reveal the project’s cost or how it would be paid for. A spokesman would say only that renovating the existing Trinity Place buildings – one of which is five stories and dates to 1915 and the other a 25-story brick structure completed in 1927 – would have cost $33 million.

The church, established in 1698, is among Manhattan’s largest property owners, with an estimated $2 billion worth of commercial real estate in the Hudson Square area. The net rental income from those buildings was $71 million in 2012.

The new building, slated for completion by 2017, is expected to generate more money for Trinity, but will stand in sharp contrast to the Gothic revival church, which was rebuilt after a fire and opened in 1846. The view of its spire from Wall Street is considered iconic.

“The new condo tower is going to be the worst possible backdrop, and will be much taller than the current building,” said parishioner Jeremy Bates. “It may be an economically smart decision, but it’s symbolically wrong.”

Bates sued Trinity this year over its board-election process.

Critics say Cooper focused much of his energy on the development of the two-building site to the detriment of the church’s philanthropic missions.

Former board member Tom Flexner noted in a December 2011 letter to fellow members of the vestry that Cooper wanted “to pursue ill-conceived projects in order to promote his own power.”

“I would specially note his almost obsessive desire to redevelop 68-74 Trinity Place into a sort of mega-monument – a facility more expensive and more expansive than any reasonable assessment of our needs would suggest is appropriate,” Flexner wrote.

In the midst of the controversy over his leadership, Cooper considered retiring, but only if he got perks, including a burial plot in the historic church graveyard. His compensation package in 2010 topped $1.3 million, including his church-owned Soho town house. He announced in February that he would retire in 2015.

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