NYC can fast-track an Islamic terror mosque at Ground Zero but stonewalls reconstruction of a church demolished on 9/11

The story of the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and its efforts to rebuild after the collapse of the World Trade Center is one of well-intentioned promises that led to endless negotiations, design disputes, delays and mounting costs.


On September 11, 2001 the barbaric attack not only destroyed the majestic Twin Towers but also the tiny yet historic St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located south of the second tower of the World Trade Center. In the aftermath of its destruction, very little survived: two icons, one of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and the other of the Zoodochos Pege, along with a few liturgical items, a book, and some candles.

It is, in other words, a microcosm of the seven-year, $16 billion, problem-plagued effort to reconstruct the entire trade center site.

Within a month of the attack on the trade center, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, pledged that the four-story church would rise “on the same sacred spot as a symbol of determined faith.” Gov. George E. Pataki agreed.

But today, the church exists only on blueprints. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency overseeing reconstruction, has not finalized the exchange of land needed to provide the congregation with a new home near ground zero. Until that deal is completed, the authority cannot proceed with building the southern foundation wall for the entire site, and cannot draw up designs for a bomb screening center for buses and trucks that would go under the new church.

And because security is crucial, delays in the vehicle security center mean delays in other parts of the site.

The church has for several years wanted to build the new St. Nicholas a block northeast of its original home on Cedar Street. But doing so would require trading land with the Port Authority, and an agreement has proven elusive. In the meantime, the church designed a domed marble complex that would be six times the size of its original home, and far more expensive.

Both St. Nicholas and the Port Authority are eager to resolve the issues quickly, especially since the authority plans to pick a contractor to build the southern perimeter wall for the entire site this summer, and it needs title to the church’s property to proceed. But officials involved in the talks say there remain substantial differences over the size of the church complex and the amount of money the Port Authority will contribute to building it.Using a tent for services

“We understand the church’s mission,” said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority. “It is part of the history of the site and we want to maintain that. We just need to put the project in the right context.”

John E. Pitsikalis, president of the St. Nicholas parish council, said his congregation of 70 families wanted both a new home and a place where visitors and tourists, regardless of their religion, could commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11. Most of the families currently worship at SS. Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Downtown Brooklyn, where their priest, the Rev. John Romas, was assigned.

“My main concern is having a church for our community as soon as possible,” Mr. Pitsikalis said. “Our congregation has not had a building for almost seven years.”

The sliver of a church, with its four-story whitewashed exterior and lavishly decorated interior, survived even as the World Trade Center was built in the 1960s, just to the north. On Wednesdays, the church opened its doors to the public, and dozens of office workers and tourists found it a soothing refuge from the hurly-burly of Lower Manhattan. Although many of its congregants moved to the suburbs, St. Nicholas rebuffed offers for the property from the Milstein real estate family, which owned the parking lot that surrounded the church.

Its quiet existence ended on Sept. 11, 2001, when the church was crushed by the fall of the south tower.

The congregation quickly vowed to rebuild, but from the beginning it realized it would be a “small player” in the huge undertaking of rebuilding the trade center, said Nicholas P. Koutsomitis, an architect who prepared a master plan for St. Nicholas. NY TIMES