News | West Harlem

Historic church redevelopment proceeds after CB10 approves rezoning

  • REBUILDING HISTORY | Community Board 10 approved a rezoning plan Wednesday that allows Artimus Construction to renovate the 107-year-old St. Thomas the Apostle Church into a community art space.
  • NEW LIFE | Community Board 10 approved a rezoning plan Wednesday that allows Artimus Construction to renovate the 107-year-old St. Thomas the Apostle Church into a community art space.

Community Board 10 approved Artimus Construction’s proposal Wednesday to rezone St. Nicholas Avenue between 117th and 118th streets on Wednesday night, in return for the developer’s promise to transform a historic church on the block into a community art space.

The board’s original plan to build a residential development on St. Nicholas Avenue ran afoul due to zoning restrictions that would limit its permitted height, making the 12-story building Artimus Construction envisioned an impossibility.

But at the meeting on Wednesday, Artimus representatives came before CB10 with a compromise: If the zoning regulations were changed, Artimus could use the income from the additional residential units to fund the preservation of St. Thomas the Apostle Church—located at West 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue—and the redevelopment of St. Thomas the Apostle School that shares the block. Both the church and the school are currently closed.

Calling St. Thomas’ current condition “desanctified,” Melanie Meyers, an attorney for Artimus, said that using the renovated church as an affordable rental space for art groups “would be a great asset for the community.” 

Artimus has been actively involved in the West Harlem community for a while and is involved with several new developments in the area, including the site of a former BP gas station at 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which Artimus plans to redevelop into a housing and retail complex.

“We see this as a very important structure of the community,” Ken Haron, president of Artimus, said of St. Thomas. “We were afraid that some other people would just demolish it.” 

But, according to Haron, the church renovation is contingent on the block being rezoned.

“We have to have the income from other things,” Haron said, referring to the extra apartment units the proposed change would allow. 

On Jan. 30, Artimus held an open house at the church to present the project and hear from community members. Among those present were theater professionals and nonprofit organizations, all of whom were invited to take the microphone and share their ideas in front of coordinators, architects, and others involved in the renovation of the church. 

Some present at the meeting shared concerns about accessibility of the space to the general public and lower-income residents, while others gave advice about the acoustics of the building for musical events. 

Brian Benjamin, chair of CB10’s land use and landmarks committee, said on Wednesday that the committee had already addressed the issue of whether space at the church would actually be accessible to the community.

“They [Artimus] are on record saying the space will be affordable,” he said, adding that the rezoning would add a mere 16 extra units to Artimus’ planned residential development. “That gives a little bit of credibility to their arguments.”

At the open house, Artimus representatives stated that St. Thomas will be used as a rental venue for weddings, musical performances, receptions, and other possible events.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Millenium Dance Company will occupy the redeveloped church, and that 80 percent of the housing units will be market-rate. Both will actually take place at the redeveloped gas station on 110th Street, not St. Thomas the Apostle. Spectator regrets the errors. 

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @evakalikoff

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