Work halted on World Trade Center shrine

Work on the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the eastern tip of Liberty Park has halted because the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America defaulted on payments to its contractors.
Associated Press / Mark Lennihan

BY COLIN MIXSON

The work to rebuild a Liberty Street church destroyed during 9/11 ground to a halt earlier this month, after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America failed to pay its contractors.

Skanska USA, which managed construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at 130 Liberty St., told its sub-contractors to immediately stow their gear, collect materials, and leave their posts in a letter dated Dec. 5th informing workers that the archdiocese had defaulted on payments.

The archdiocese later admitted that “financial difficulties” led to a temporary suspension work at the church, also known as the National Shrine at the World Trade Center, according to a Dec. 9 press release, in which the church reaffirmed its commitment to completing the reconstruction project.

The archdiocese’s press release portrayed the work stoppage as a “difficult yet necessary step” taken by the archdiocese to ensure church funds are properly managed, but a spokeswoman for Skanska, Barbara Brancaccio, said that it was the contractor that ultimately made the decision to break their agreement after the church failed to keep up with payments.

The “financial difficulties” alluded to in the church’s statement may be caused by the mismanagement of funds under Archbishop Demetrios of America, according to a Pappas Post report, which cited an email from archdiocese treasurer Michael Psaros describing the church’s multi-million deficit and lack of “even the most basic internal controls with respect to expenditures, vendor and travel management, and other basic matters of basic corporate governance.”

The Psaros email also alleged that funds were taken from restricted accounts, such as one used to fund construction of the National Shrine, in order to pay administrative costs, and Pappas cited an anonymous source alleging that $3.8 million was diverted from the St. Nicholas fund to pay for the Archbishop’s travel costs and other expenses.

The church has created a special investigative committee — which includes Battery Park City Authority board chairman Dennis Mehiel — and empowered it to hire outside council and conduct audits in an inquiry into the St. Nicholas construction project, and the use of shrine funds to pay for the archdiocese’s general operating costs, according to a separate press release from the archdiocese.

Skanska remains open to renewing its partnership with the church, and is optimistic that the archdiocese will obtain the funding necessary to revive construction, according to a statement released by the contractor.

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