Volume 21, Number 37 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 23 - 29, 2009

Glad Tidings Tabernacle has dropped its plan to build a giant cross outside the chapel it plans to build in 177 Franklin St., seen here last year.

Tribeca won’t have big cross to bear with new church

By Julie Shapiro

It looked like an ordinary landmarks application at Community Board 1 — a one-story penthouse addition, plus facade improvements — until the architect mentioned the 6-foot-tall cross.

The application for 177 Franklin St. was for a church called Glad Tidings Tabernacle, architect Brian Kaye explained, and the church wanted a copper cross sticking out of the center of the building, measuring 6 feet high and 30 inches wide.

“Hell would freeze over before I’d vote for a cross [that big], or a Jewish star,” replied Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee.

“To put it in a more politically correct way, it contravenes [Landmarks Preservation Commission] guidelines,” added Roger Byrom, chairperson of the committee.

The committee ultimately gave advisory approval to the cross at their Jan. 8 meeting once Kaye, with Darius Toraby Architects, agreed to reduce its size — but now the cross has disappeared from the plans all together.

“We feel really badly about that,” Glad Tidings Pastor Donna Keyes said when she heard about the controversy over the cross.

The goal of the church is to become part of the neighborhood, not to stick out, Keyes said. The church’s old building on 33rd St. near Penn Station had a large cross on it, but Keyes called it an “eyesore” and said she never intended to replicate it in the new location.

Kaye, the architect, said the church’s leaders asked him to include a cross in the design, but Keyes said it was a misunderstanding.

Cross confusion aside, Keyes said the 100-year-old Glad Tidings church is well on its way to reopening on Franklin St. between Hudson and Greenwich Sts. late next fall. Keyes has run the church, an Assemblies of God congregation, for the past 10 years with her husband and fellow pastor Carl Keyes. Free-form services incorporate music ranging from folk to R&B.

“We landed on Tribeca because it’s really a family community,” Donna Keyes said. “It’s a good fit for us — we have such a heart for the arts.”

Keyes hopes to bring concerts and art exhibits to the church for the general public, and she also wants to involve local kids in drama programs.

Pastor Gregg Farah, whose Mosaic Manhattan Church meets in P.S. 89, was glad to hear another church was joining Lower Manhattan.

“It’s an incredible community, but it’s also a challenging community for a lot of reasons,” Farah said.

Lower Manhattan is expensive for churches struggling to rent space, and the stereotypical description of New Yorkers as people who are too busy for God has some truth to it, Farah said. But the explosion of families Downtown has helped keep churches afloat, because parents often want their children raised with religion, Farah said.

As for whether the arrival of Glad Tidings poses a competitive threat to Mosaic Manhattan, “Not at all,” Farah said. “Our competition is the New York Times, the coffee shop, the alarm clock.”

C.B. 1’s Tribeca Committee discussed the arrival of Glad Tidings at a meeting last week, and committee chairperson Carole DeSaram had several concerns.

The State Liquor Authority will not grant liquor or beer/wine licenses to any establishments within 200 feet of a house of worship, so the relocated church would effectively cut off opportunities for new restaurants in the area, DeSaram said after the meeting. She hopes the church will consider adding another use to its ground floor, like a bookshop, which would prevent the 200-foot rule from applying.

Keyes said the church will have many uses, including as an art gallery and possibly a juice bar, and she has no intention of preventing bars or restaurants from opening nearby.

Some residents were concerned about noisy crowds of people attending services, as happened several years ago at the Faith Exchange Fellowship at Greenwich and Vestry Sts. After pervasive neighborhood complaints, Faith Exchange moved to lower Broadway in 2006.

Keyes said the Franklin St. church would hold only 130 people, and Glad Tidings will have satellite gatherings elsewhere in the city to accommodate other parishioners.

Keyes and her husband moved to New York and started a mission in Bushwick in 1989. They stayed there for 10 years with their two young sons before moving to Glad Tidings, a 100-year-old church on 33rd St. The Glad Tidings building between Eighth and Ninth Aves. was leaky and crumbling, so the church sold it and is temporarily holding services at the Comix comedy club on 14th St.

The church’s move to Franklin St. won’t be the first time Keyes and her family lived in Lower Manhattan — they moved to Battery Park City around Thanksgiving of 2001 so Carl could work as a chaplain at ground zero. They stayed in the neighborhood giving free counseling for two years, until rising rents forced them out. The couple’s two sons are now grown, but Donna and Carl will move into the Glad Tidings’ new Franklin St. location when it is ready in the fall.

The next step for preparing the space is to get approval from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission for a slew of changes to the building in the Tribeca West Historic District, including a one-story penthouse addition on the six-story building that will not be visible from the street. The church would use the brick penthouse as a classroom and would have additional classroom space on other floors of the building, Keyes said.

The church also plans to remake the storefront with glass and green-coated aluminum. A double-height space on the first floor will serve as both a worship space and concert hall. The church bought the building, once a residence and studio for artists, for $11.55 million.

C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee gave advisory approval to the application, pending the review of historic photographs, and the full board will vote next week. The city’s Landmarks Commission has not yet scheduled a hearing.





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