2019-01-09 / Features

Rebuilding St. Nicholas At Ground Zero

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

It was over 17 years ago that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Now, more than a year after construction of the planned St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and Shrine was halted at its World Trade Center site, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have traded letters over St. Nicholas’ future.

Designed by Santiago Calatrava and located just south of the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in Liberty Park, the work on St. Nicholas came to an abrupt halt on December 5, 2017 when Skanska USA terminated its contract with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for payment default, according to a December 26, 2017 New York Times report. An independent special investigative committee (SIC) was commissioned by the GOA regarding finances at St. Nicholas and a report was issued on October 22, 2018. It concluded there is no evidence the St. Nicholas funds were improperly paid to any individuals employed by or associated with the Archdiocese and that there is no evidence or allegation that fraud was committed in connection with the St. Nicholas project.

Upon the recommendation of the SIC, a new Board of Trustees for the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine was named on December 6, 2018, the feast day of St. Nicholas. It has the responsibility for both the rebuilding and care of St. Nicholas and the management of related funds. In addition, a new legal entity, The Friends of St. Nicholas, will lead fundraising and oversight for the project that may be affiliated with, but is independent from the Archdiocese, with separate bank accounts and an appropriately qualified board.

On December 9, the National Herald reported that Richard Cotton, executive director of PANYNJ, wrote a letter dated November 6, 2018 to Archbishop Demetrios of America and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressing concerns about St. Nicholas. “I am open to a number of options to assist the Greek community in completing the project,” Cotton wrote, offering that PANYNJ could “facilitate construction based on appropriate commitments” or “could assemble a group to take over construction.” Cotton also offered assistance “with redesign” to “make (St. Nicholas) financially feasible” and “If completion is not possible, (to) assist in any way possible to find an alternative configuration to complete the project. In any event, I believe we can all agree that the status quo cannot continue as it is a negative for all involved,” he said.

On November 14, Archbishop Demetrios thanked Cotton for sharing his concerns “about the current status of our St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine,” and added, “Be assured that no one is more concerned about the interruption of construction than myself. We believe wholeheartedly that the project is on the right course and that construction will resume in the not too distant future. We truly regret the delay in completing the church, but as director of the Port Authority you know too well the challenges the Port Authority encountered from 2001 until the recent past.”

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