Actor Matt Damon joins battle to save a historic church in New York
The West Park Presbyterian Church, located at 165 W 86th Street in New York, had been turned into a city landmark despite the efforts of the local Christian community.
Struggling to find the necessary funds for a $2 million repair bill, church leaders signed an obligatory contract with a developer company in 2022. The also submitted a hardship application requesting to de-landmark and demolish the building for the townhouse, which would also include worship space for the church. The hardship law requires a reasonable return on a 6% investment necessary to repair the church, but that cannot be achieved if a third party owns the building.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission assessed the application along with some other independent surveys, which recommended alternative uses for the church, including a day-care centre and event venue.
According to Marsha Flowers, ruling elder of the West Park Presbyterian Church and a founding board member of the Centre at West Park: “As an elder of the church and a founding member of the Center at West Park, I’m also frustrated with the difficult position we find ourselves in today. We helped create the Center in 2017 to celebrate the arts while fundraising for repairs to the building. Still, the funds never came through despite more than a decade of promises and commitments from local leaders. Our congregation is now focused on creating a new space for worship and the arts, and we hope to use our proceeds to help other churches meet their mission and avoid circumstances like ours.”
The Centre at West Park, a not-for-profit arts centre organised a play called ‘This is Our Youth’ to be performed on the 16th of November. They posted the following statement on their social media page: “For over a decade, the board of the Centre at West Park has been working to preserve this important NYC landmark as an accessible cultural resource for the local neighbourhood and the NYC performing arts community. The Centre at West Park is a vital and thriving artistic and cultural hub. Since 2017, the centre has presented more than 300 performances to over 15,000 audience members. Together, we can make our voices heard and show that our community wants more accessible and inclusive spaces for arts and culture, not another luxury high-rise development.”
Academy Award winner actor Matt Damon joined a growing list of high-profile celebrities who have united in the effort to save the church, such as actors Mark Ruffalo and Wendell Pierce; comedian Amy Schumer; rapper and actor Common. Tickets to see Damon’s performance start at $500, but the top price for a second performance on the 17th of November will only be $250. Some seats on the second day will be offered at no fixed admission, and people can pay what they can afford.