By Steve Cuozzo New York Post
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America hopes its huge new St. Nicholas Church at 130 Liberty St. designed by Santiago Calatrava will open in early 2016 after a mere $20 million outlay.
But don’t count on either prediction to stand up.
The $20 million budget is drawing hoots from observers familiar with the architect’s chronic cost overruns — for example, he’s nearly $2 billion over budget at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub across the street.
“For $20 million the archdiocese will get a door with a window,” snickered a participant in WTC reconstruction who didn’t want to be named.
Church officials say they’ll soon begin fundraising for Calatrava’s domed, monumental structure about four times larger than the original church destroyed on 9/11. But another issue has gone unnoticed in the excitement over his design, which was first shown in these pages a few weeks ago:
Namely, the archdiocese doesn’t yet have a lease to build at the site, which is owned by — and you thought it was out of business? — the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
Archdiocese spokesman Father Mark Arey said, “The land still has some LMDC situation going on, and we have not yet finalized our land swap.”
Eventually, Arey said, the Port Authority will own the land and will lease it to the archdiocese for 99 years.
The PA and the LMDC agreed in principle several years ago to swap two precious parcels of land — the possible site of a future performing arts center at the WTC’s north end next to 1 WTC, now owned by the PA, and the so-called “south site” owned by the LMDC — a zone just south of the actual WTC.
It includes 130 Liberty St., where the blackened ruin of the old Deutsche Bank building was finally demolished after years of delay; 140 Liberty St., previously a Milstein family-owned parking lot; and 155 Cedar St., where the original, tiny Greek church stood.
But PA and LMDC sources said it wasn’t as easy as just trading parcels, and as a result, an “intense scrimmage” was going on behind the scenes.
Among the complicating factors, the LMDC’s land includes a development site just south of the planned church where a 1 million-plus square-foot tower could rise — making it potentially much more valuable than the PA site to the north, where the WTC master plan does not allow any more new skyscrapers.
In addition, the church site is on top of the PA’s underground Vehicle Screening Center, which may raise engineering issues. Between the various issues, a land-swap agreement might require public approvals to ensure that both agencies get a fair deal.
“The church is actually a minor piece of the puzzle even though everybody wants it,” one insider said.
In fact, the 130 Liberty site has been a hot potato since 2001. Larry Silverstein once hoped to build a tower there. Former Gov. George Pataki decided to use it for the new church — a move the PA fiercely resisted, moving the project back to 155 Cedar St.
That led the archdiocese to sue the PA.
Along the way, the PA, LMDC and JP Morgan Chase entertained plans for a new headquarters for the bank which would cantilever over the proposed church — the so-called “beer-belly” tower aborted after the crash.
Then, in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo overruled the Port Authority and restored the church project to 130 Liberty St.
The next move?
That’s anybody’s guess.