Judge lifts stop-demolition order at historic church
by Patrick Kearns
Jun 13, 2017 | 287 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Supreme Court Judge Ellen Spodek has lifted the stop-demolition order on Our Lady of Loreto Church in Brownsville, meaning Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens (CCBQ) can begin demolition on the church as soon as the decision is entered with the clerk of court.

Once the order is entered, advocates fighting for the preservation of the church will seek to re-argue Spodek’s order and appeal to the Appellate Division.

The appeal will be on the grounds that Spodek didn’t have an opportunity to weigh all of the information in the amended complaint, and that dismissal is procedurally premature.

CCBQ intends to construct affordable housing and a community space on the site, although there are currently no definitive plans.

CCBQ estimates it would cost nearly $9 million to repair and preserve the church, a prohibitively costly option.

“[We are] pleased with the judge’s decision as we have complied with all rules, regulations and requests from all state, local officials, and the community board, concerning the Loreto property,” a CCBQ spokesperson said in a statement.

The initial lawsuit to prevent demolition was filed by plaintiff Jillian Mulvihill and eventually amended to include members of a group calling themselves the Brownsville Cultural Coalition.

The complaint argues that the church – the first built in New York in a pure Roman Renaissance style entirely by Italian-American artisans – is an architectural and cultural gem and should serve the people of Brownsville as it has previously done for the past century.

The lawsuit also argues that the state and city funding used to raze the church’s outbuildings to provide affordable housing in 2010 was contingent upon CCBQ refraining from demolishing the church itself.

Approximately a dozen residents protested outside CCBQ’s Downtown Brooklyn office last week to who that despite the judge’s decision, community opposition still exists.

Mulvihill hopes to convince CCBQ into giving the church to the community.

“In Boston, a Jewish synagogue was no longer in use by the community,” she said. “The Jewish community donated their synagogue for $1 to the black community who now runs it and keeps it in immaculate working order. It’s gorgeous and they have a cultural center there.”

Monica Kumar said the protest was also to remind CCBQ that opposition groups are not going away, despite the decision.

“They rejected our amended complaint and think it’s case closed, but we’re just sort of here to remind them that they haven't, as they claimed, listened to the community,” she said. “We would still like to be in a dialogue.”

According to Kumar, the ideal outcome is that the church is landmarked, preserved and adaptively used as community space. She said the Brownsville Cultural Coalition is gathering partners and creating a plan, but CCBQ refuses to come to the table.

Les Ford, director of NIA Theatrical Production Company, believes a cultural space will contribute to the economic revitalization, cultural renewal and quality of life in Brownsville.

“We will employ people, we will increase tourism to the area,” he said. “People will shop at the local places.”

Paula Segal, an attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center isn’t buying CCBQ’s argument that this is about building more affordable housing.

She explained that CCBQ hasn’t applied for any subsidies or tax abatements to build affordable housing at the site.

“They plan to sell the property,” Segal suggested. “They think money is money.”

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