The City is poised to conclude a lease and sale agreement aimed at saving the historic church building on North Avenue, just south of the Police-Court Facility.

The former Presbyterian Church has been under public ownership for several decades. Unfortunately, during that time, the City was never able to identify a viable and financially self-sustaining use for the structure, and it has fallen into progressively worse physical condition. Several months ago, the deteriorating structural integrity of the church’s bell tower required its removal.

The City Council and Administration decided to market the property to a religious use after considering and rejecting a variety of other options. Traditional commercial activities would almost certainly entail demolition of the building and would also feature daily and hourly parking demand patterns in direct conflict with those of municipal and court employees. The prospect of a performing arts or cultural center holds great appeal and has persuasive advocates, but the financial challenges associated with such a center are enormous, and would almost certainly require direct or indirect public subsidies. Even stabilizing the building in order to preserve future options would require a large expenditure of public funds at a time when we can least afford it. Thus, the revolutionary notion to turn the church into … a church.

We received two responses to a City-issued RFP, and our staff is recommending Refugio De Esperanza, primarily because this applicant has the cash-on-hand necessary to restore the building, and is not dependent upon additional fund-raising. (Renovation costs are estimated to be about $3 million.)

Not relevant to the deal, but certainly a point of public interest, is that Refugio De Esperanza is the church of Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera. Mr. Rivera is already a familiar figure in New Rochelle through his involvement in the Clubhouse Grill restaurant (formerly Mo’s) and through a variety of other community activities and appearances.

I had been increasingly pessimistic about our prospects for saving the North Avenue church and am very pleased that this historic building can now be preserved for future generations to admire.

The City Council is expected to act on this agreement at its regular legislative meeting on June 21st.