In the latest twist in the battle over whether to preserve West-Park Presbyterian Church as a historic landmark, the church’s congregation filed a lawsuit on Monday against its tenant, The Center at West Park, asking that the lease they both signed in 2017 be declared “null and void.”
If the church’s suit prevails, it would, in effect, evict the Center, a nonprofit performing arts group that has opposed West-Park’s effort to shed its landmark status so that it can sell the property at West 86th and Amsterdam. The potential buyer is a real estate developer, Alchemy Properties, who wants to replace the church with a 19-story, market-rate apartment building.
The lawsuit is asking the New York State Supreme Court to declare the lease null and void on the grounds that the 2017 agreement was signed without approvals required by the New York State Religious Corporations Law. The suit also alleges that the lease agreement is “unfair and unreasonable,” in part because the congregation was not represented by an attorney in negotiating it.
But beyond the lease legalities, the lawsuit has exposed a major conflict between the church, which now has a tiny congregation of a dozen members, and the Center, which was allegedly given a discounted rental rate in exchange for a promise to raise money needed for repairs to the church’s interior and its crumbling façade.
The Center at West Park has “invested $494,000 in building repairs over the last five years, including replacing a roof, installing and paying the leasing costs of a new sidewalk shed, and installing a new alarm system.”Susan Sullivan, board member, Center at West Park