After New York governor Andrew Cuomo proclaimed in January of this year that construction would soon resume on Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan, it would appear that this promised moment has finally come.
Late last week it was announced that Cuomo would be joining Archbishop Elpidophoros, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), and other religious and community leaders today in a re-commencement ceremony kicking off what is to be (God willing) the final phase of work on the long-hampered, half-completed project located opposite the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. Official resumption of work on St. Nicholas has, both predictably and appropriately, led to a variety of resurrection-related quips.
As reported by the New York Post, today’s ceremony involved lowering the first skylight via crane into the dome of the Hagia Sophia–inspired house of worship, which was designed by Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava and includes a non-denominational bereavement center. The original St. Nicholas Church, housed in a diminutive 1832 structure that originally served as a private dwelling and then as a tavern before being converted into a church by members of Manhattan’s Greek immigrant community in 1919, was completely destroyed during the 9/11 terror attacks when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Following a 2014 ground blessing ceremony and a 2016 topping out, the new St. Nicholas Church was originally slated for completion in 2017. The church is now set to open on September 11, 2021—the 20th anniversary of the attacks. Originally estimated to cost $40 million to complete, construction costs have at least doubled during the project’s nearly two-decade timeline.
As previously detailed by AN, the project has been plagued by a series of setbacks, scandals, and squabbles including a protracted payment dispute between Skanska USA and the GOA; seemingly insurmountable cost overruns; an early legal tête-à-tête between the church and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site of the new St. Nicholas just east of the original building site; and an embezzlement scheme involving church executives. More recently, a restart on construction work, which was supposed to kick-off in spring, was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
In January, a 13-member nonprofit board, the Friends of St. Nicholas, was established to see the troubled project to completion. The purview of the board includes spearheading all-important fundraising efforts, keeping tabs on construction, and holding internal audits to ensure that various aspects of the consistently off-track project stay the course.
Once the project regained its footing in January with a crucial assist from Cuomo, the Friends of St. Nicholas managed to haul in an impressive $45 million in much-needed funding in less than three months according to John Catsimatidis, the billionaire New York City supermarket magnate and former mayoral candidate who serves on the board.
“Finally, the only House of God destroyed on Sept. 11 will be completed and open to all people, on the twentieth anniversary of that fateful and horrific day,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros in a statement shared by the Post. “We look forward to welcoming New Yorkers and the entire world to this sacred space dedicated to memory, faith, and freedom.”