St. Nicolas, Ground Zero, and the $60,000,000 Government Funded Church

By Bill Golden

Much has been made of who is financing the building of the mosque that is not really a mosque just blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. The Cordoba House, as the mosque that is not a mosque is called, is estimated to cost $100,000,000 — none of it coming from U.S. government, state or local governments. And so far none of the funding for the building of Cordoba House has been raised either.

But what if I told you that there is a church just blocks away from the Cordoba House that is being built with taxpayer money at the cost of $60,000,000 or approximately $857,142 per family that attends the church (1). The church is St. Nicolas, a Greek Orthodox church.

The blogosphere is alive with how New York’s government is favoring Cordoba House but bureaucratically blocking the rebuilding of  ‘a Christian church’ damaged in 9/11. Most stories do not even give the name of the church and offer even fewer details as to how the rebuilding of this Christian church is being bureaucratically blocked by New York.

About St. Nicolas:

  • If you visit the church’s website you will find that they are still collecting money for their own rebuilding of the current church and there is no complaint about any roadblocks being imposed by New York.
  • There has been a general design plan for the rebuilding of St. Nicolas, but that is part of the Twin Towers and included within the 9/11 Memorial Funding. The construction is part of a campus concept; change in one part of the design affects other parts. View rebuilding of the Twin Towers via live webcam.
  • St. Nicolas appears to be open only for weekend services and is not otherwise a functioning church offering other regularly scheduled services and community activities.
  • Some speculation and controversy exists that Cordoba House may accept some foreign funding, yet there seems to be no concern expressed that St. Nicolas has accepted foreign government funding (Greece) to rebuild and to repair the original church; Greek government funding is documented on St. Nicolas’ website.

St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox Church New York NY framed by the Twin Towers


  • 2004: New York Governor Pataki pledged to rebuild St. Nicolas which was partially destroyed on 9/11 by terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. The funding is to be part of the 9/11 Memorial on the campus of the new Twin Towers.
  • 2004-2008: As planning progresses, the city of New York formally offered to spend up to $60,000,000 of taxpayer money as part of the 9/11 memorial funding. $20M was for the church and $40M was to build unique protections for the church should the new twin towers be bombed again.
  • 2008:  St. Nicolas announces a deal in July 2008 for the full $60 million of U.S. taxpayer money to design a new church six times its original size.  St. Nicolas also releases the following statement as to how FAST New York was in helping them: “It’s welcome news,” said Nicholas P. Koutsomitis, an architect who prepared the master plan for St. Nicholas. “They’re running it through very, very quickly. I hope the rest of the schedule for the job gets the same kind of attention.”
  • 2009The deal was still a go in March of 2009 — with the church getting $20 million of taxpayer money up front.
  • 2010: The deal went bad in March 2010 when St. Nicolas appears to have decided that what it really wanted to do was to move to a new location, and to rebuild using taxpayer money.
  • 2010: Fox News reported in mid-August 2010 that the church rejected New York’s offer of $60 million taxpayer dollars to rebuild where it is, instead of paying for a new church to be built elsewhere.

New York Port Authority statement (August 2010):

“St. Nicholas Orthodox Church has always had and will continue to have the right to rebuild on its original location. The question was whether public money would be spent to build a much larger church at a separate location on the site and ensuring that construction wouldn’t delay the World Trade Center further,” spokesman Stephen Sigmund said in a written statement. “On that question, we worked for many years to reach an agreement and offered up to 60 million dollars of public money to build that much larger new church. After reaching what we believed was an agreement in 2008, representatives of the church wanted even more public commitments, including unacceptable approvals on the design of the Vehicle Security Center that threatened to further delay the construction on the World Trade Center and the potential for another $20 million of public funds.”

Throughout most of the blogosphere, and even in most traditional media reporting, almost none of the above is offered in discussion.


1- There are approximately 70 families that belong to St. Nicolas which mathematically works out to $857,142.85 ($60M / 70 families).



Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “St. Nicolas, Ground Zero, and the $60,000,000 Government Funded Church

  1. Kentigern Pavlos

    You seem to have a thoughtful blog, but I thought this entry was unfair and not balanced. First, the South Tower fell on the church, which was there long before the WTC. It was the WTC that was attacked and not the church, whose property in effect since has been seized and used for a delayed and extravagant rebuilding process without its input. It has a small congregation and not many weekly services–but that’s because it’s been meeting in another church across town for the past nine years. It’s touch for a congregation to survive that long. The large funding you mention was primarily for the kinds of expenses attached to rebuilding as part of the high-security and very expense Port Authority campus. The NY Times recently profiled how the office space situation in Manhattan does not economically warrant what the Port Authority is expecting. If you’re concerned about the Port Authority spending “public money” on rebuilding a church that was destroyed by the collapse of its building, then it would be good to question what the Port Authority is doing with its “public money” in building such an extravagant office campus. Or why the director of the Port Authority has been quoted as saying that he’s the “biggest non-believer around” and feels he has to be “smarter” than non-believers. Why has the Port Authority not been continuing discussions with the church? There are a lot of unanswered questions and it sounds like you’re siding with the government authority (which in effect has exercise eminent domain in doing whatever it wants with the church’s land) against a small church, and in effect kicking it when it’s done. Maybe the amount of the rebuilding payment isn’t justified, but I think the Port Authority is acting like an extravagant bully in (money aside, let them keep their money) not caring for a sacred place with a long tradition in the neighborhood, given its lack of continued negotiations and secrecy/silence except for the p.r. statement you quote.

    • Kentigern,

      Did the church receive an offer to fully restore it to the way it was? Yes.

      Did the church receive an offer to actually build it better and larger than it was? Yes.

      Did the church demand changes outside the physical property of the church, and try to negotiate the church even being moved to a different location at taxpayer expense? Yes.

      Taxpayers do not build churches. This was a special case in special circumstances. But once the discussion moves beyond taxpayers restoring a specific thing at a specific spot then taxpayers should become uninvolved.

      It may not have been unreasonable to suggest that the church would accept a fraction of the rebuild cost and use that money to relocate. A good deal in the public taxpayer’s behalf. But that was not the case. The church wanted all of the restoration money plus more.

      As for continuing discussions: engineering logic applies. The church was being rebuilt as part of the 9/11 Memorial redesign. The project had a start date, a work schedule, and a projected completion date. The original, negotiated offer was there for the church to accept, which it had already done earlier. The start date had come and gone, the church wanted more negotiations. No. The rest of the project should not be held up because a church has changed its mind.

  2. Kentigern Pavlos

    Shall we say then that taxpayers do not build extravagant for-profit office complexes that are based on faulty assessments of the market either! Yet that’s exactly what the Port Authority seems to be doing for us–or maybe “to us” is a better way of putting it.
    Public agencies are liable for damage that they or in this case their buildings cause to private citizens, private companies or private religious groups.
    To use your legal language, those damages in this case extend to this private corporation (a non-profit corporation, St. Nicholas Church) being deprived of its property for nine and probably a number of more years, thus suffering harm to its business (in this case maintaining a congregation when having throughout that period to meet in another area in a facility shared with another “rival” organization–i.e. another church organization), and having its property in effect seized by a government organization that refuses to sit down for meetings with it to discuss its future.
    Add to this the fact that the public agency in question is not directly accountable to the taxpayers who fund it, but is a fairly secretive bureaucracy apparently run as a kind of patronage fiefdom, with its relatively new director a political appointee whose qualifications for running this huge public agency apparently is a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and who declares himself “probably the biggest non-believerl” and “smarter” than believer”–and you have a recipe for government disaster and unwarranted interference with religion in violation of the First Amendment.
    (He also came to the job from a position as director of the New York contractors association, apparently a trade organization for those who reap profits from large construction projects.)
    The Port Authority seems more an oligarchy than a public democratic institution. Its treatment of this church is akin in quality to the treatment of Orthodox Christians under the statist regime of the Soviet Union, which turned its churches into museums if not bulldozing them. Would this treatment have been tolerated of a society WASP church (i.e. if its name was First Presbyterian etc.) or a Jewish synagogue or Muslim mosque? I think not.
    How sad it is that our nation’s priorities are so askew that a public agency can build an extravagant office complex without proper assessment of the market or a referendum by taxpayers, but won’t even sit down fairly with a private landowner to discuss the future of the land whose use and future for at least several years it has in effect seized from it.
    And all this at the site of our greatest recent disaster.
    It symbolizes the downward direction of our nation.
    And as I said earlier, all this applies even if the church does not get a dime from the Port Authority–the latter is still responsible for having in effect taken private land without accountability either to the owners or to the taxpayers at large who are forced to pay for its various profligate plans.
    It is ironic too that relics of St. Nicholas of Myra were in the destroyed church. He was the “original Santa Claus.” The Port Authority’s priority is more on building its unmarketable office complex and glorifying its own bureaucracy than common people, their property rights, and their faith.

  3. Kentigern Pavlos

    Sorry I had meant to include these links as some sources for info above:
    And to say that Mr. Ward’s qualifications include his Divinity Masters–he has other experience and may be a nice guy as a person, but when he came in, talks with the church stopped, and his past position with the General Contractors Association is interesting.
    And as I mentioned before–your blog seems to be thoughtful but on this point I think you really need some balance in considering what’s a proper role for government here in a larger perspective too.

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