By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
Park Church overlooking McGolrick Park in Greenpoint was all but set to be sold to the real-estate development firm GW Equities LLC despite the community’s rallying efforts to keep the church standing. After a hearing in front of Judge Richard Latin on Aug. 31, where community leaders, activists and politicians gave testimonies to why the church should stay, the building’s future is a little less certain.
Jamie Hook, a passionate Greenpointer who has led efforts to halt the sale, organized a community drive on Thursday Oct. 5 at the Greenpoint Library to propose a solution: have community members buy the church.
“Let’s say, we found 5,000 People in Greenpoint and wanted to each give us $1,000. You have $5 million in the bank” Hook said. “You can take this money and you can buy whatever the hell you want with it. In this case, real estate. You own, according to your share, a tiny little piece of that real estate.”
GW Equities LLC is buying the church for $4.7 million which led to Hook coming up with the “magic number” of $4.8 million in order to beat the offer from the development firm. Hook is partnering with the non-profit NYC-Real Estate Cooperative whose mission is to pool and crowdsource money to buy land for “local, cultural and cooperative uses.” The proposed goal, according to Hook, is finding at least 4,800 community members willing to purchase $1,000 worth of Park Church to meet the sale goal.
David Glick, a founding member of REIC as well as an architect and urban planner, said the organization’s mission is to save endangered real estate in the city by collecting community member funds and purchasing the property themselves.
“I like to describe it as a membership-based organization. It’s open to anybody in this city. It’s easy to join. And we link community organizing, and crowd investing, for the purpose of securing affordable space for small businesses, or cultural organizations that are under threat of displacement,” Glick said. “And we pool small individual investments from our members into a larger fund, or the purchase of property. And then we go a step further working with partners to ensure that there’s some kind of long-term affordability mechanism in place, such as a community land trust structure.”
The problem, according to Hook, is raising awareness and rallying community members to put their money into buying the church. The meeting on Thursday, which only gathered six interested community members and two local reporters, was filled with discussion on how to sell the idea to their neighbors.
Devin Young, a local parent and supporter of the church, said the plan needed to be simplified in order to make it appealing to other community members.
“We just need to make it simple and clear, and I’m so grateful that [Jaimie] got us this far, but the only way this works is if you kind of codify it now at a basic level so that people can give feedback and say ‘That sucks’ or ‘It’s great,’ but at least there’s something there…” Young said.
Krista Sammons, the principal and founder of Marathon Day, a multi-service design studio, was inspired by the recent hearing.
Sammons, who helped design plans for what the church could be if community members decided to buy the building, said she had lost hope that Park Church would be able to stay.
“I feel more hopeful than I did when we first started working on this honestly, much more hopeful. When we went into the design, we were kind of under the impression that this is a lost cause, you know, like, we’re gonna do this or we’re gonna do it to our best ability, but it’s probably not going to happen. So definitely more hopeful,” Sammons said.
It is unclear if community members will be able to raise the money in time to halt the sale.
Several attendees of the event raised questions about the specifics of the project and what the feasibility of converting the idea into an actionable plan. Young said that he wanted to save the church but also wanted to slow down the process so that they could create something that would actually work. Hook, who has organized most of the efforts to stop the sale of the Park Church building, agreed with Young’s comment but said the efforts have been rushed only because the possibility of saving the church seemed unrealistic until recently. Hook also said the possibility of buying the church is more clear than ever and that he wants to keep trying, even if it does not work out.
“The key right now is just, it’s a clearer story than it’s ever been. And I think [the project] has a real target. I just need everybody’s help to try and spread it out. Because it’s perilously close to the 11th hour,” Hook said “If I only had foresight enough to imagine that this would have happened, I don’t think I would have been scrambling as hard to pick it up to here. But even if there’s not very many of us, it forced me to do this work. And now I’m ready to do it as many times as I need to.”