West Park Presbyterian Church Will Not Be Demolished, For Now

An Upper West Side congregation that sought to tear down its church building, a Manhattan landmark, and sell the property to a developer — to the consternation of some neighbors, including a growing list of celebrities — has put the plans on hold.

The congregation, members of West Park Presbyterian Church, had said for decades that it did not have the money to fix up the crumbling 19th-century Romanesque Revival building. Instead, its members hoped the sale of the property, to a developer who planned to turn it into a high-end apartment building, would help to sustain the broader work of the church, including serving people in need.

But the 19th-century building was designated a landmark in 2010. To demolish it, the church needed permission from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which members sought in 2022. The request prompted an upwelling of support for the building’s preservation from supporters, including elected officials, as well as the actors Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo.

In a letter sent to the commission on Friday, lawyers for the church said it was withdrawing its application until it resolves its lawsuit against a tenant about a lease dispute.

The commission was scheduled to vote on the church’s application on Tuesday.

The congregation said in a statement on Friday that it would try again in the future to get approval for the building’s sale and demolition and that it was confident the application would be approved.

“After more than two decades of trying to keep up with repairs and waiting for unfulfilled promises of fund-raising to come through, we ran out of time and money and must explore other options for our congregation’s future,” the statement said.

But supporters of the preservation of the building said they hoped the move might lead to a different outcome for the building.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Gale Brewer, a City Council member who represents the Upper West Side and who helped make the building a landmark, over the objections of the congregation. She said she hoped the hold could lead to someone else buying the building with plans not to tear it down.

The dispute over the church had drawn nationwide attention because of the celebrities who had rallied to preserve the building. In addition to Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Damon, the actor Wendell Pierce, the comedian Amy Schumer, the rapper Common and others had spoken out in favor of preservation. Mr. Ruffalo even cornered Mayor Eric Adams at the Tribeca Film Festival to defend the building.

The church had also become a flashpoint in the debate over the future of New York City’s houses of worship and its housing crisis. Churches are increasingly turning to private development in the face of declining membership, and many in favor of building new housing see their properties as prime places to put more homes.

Some supporters for more development said the celebrities and the well-connected Upper West Side residents who came to the building’s defense were obstructing housing that the city needs.

A housing shortage is one of the main reasons rent and home prices in New York City are high.

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