Volume 76, Number 14 | August 23 - 29, 2006

Villager photos by Clayton Patterson
At St. Brigid’s fundraiser last Friday, from left: Jerome O’Connor, Edwin Torres, Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblymember Sylvia Friedman, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and State Senator Martin Connor. Below, surprise guest developer Gregg Singer.

Huh? Old P.S. 64 owner offers to buy St. Brigid’s

By Lincoln Anderson

Crashing last Friday’s benefit to save St. Brigid’s Church was none other than Gregg Singer, the embattled owner of the nearby old P.S. 64. He even contributed to the fundraiser, though, he admitted, it was “not a lot of money.”

Singer hung around at the benefit more than an hour. Not surprisingly, his presence raised a few eyebrows.

“One woman said, ‘Are you Gregg Singer?’ What are you here for?” he said. “I said, ‘I want to save the church.’ ” In fact, if he’s to be believed, Singer said he’d might want to buy the Avenue B church, demolition of which is on hold pending a court hearing this Thursday. Fixing the church’s damaged east wall, he said, shouldn’t be that hard, and certainly wouldn’t cost anywhere near the $7 million the archdiocese claims.

“I would buy it, but I would have to do it for something that makes sense,” Singer said. “Maybe make it a homeless shelter — maybe it could be an annex or something,” he said, referring to the old P.S. 64, at 605 E. Ninth St., which he’s currently converting into a privately run homeless center and treatment facility. Another option for the church could be senior, low-income housing, he said. Singer added that if he can work something out — even if he doesn’t buy the property — he could put the community space that he’s offered Councilmember Rosie Mendez he would include in the old P.S. 64 — providing he were allowed to do luxury apartments at the old P.S. 64 instead of a shelter — into the old church instead. “That could be interesting. Maybe that’s an idea and I could help fund that,” he said.

Singer asked The Villager for a contact at the Catholic archdiocese, and was given the number of spokesperson Joe Zwilling. Singer promptly called Zwilling and reported back that Zwilling was out until Thursday, but that he’ll keep trying to reach him.

The archdiocese insists the St. Brigid’s property will be used for some Catholic mission- or charities-related purpose.

Michael Rosen, a leader of the East Village Community Coalition, said Singer’s contribution to the St. Brigid’s fund should be returned. Noting that on Monday Singer’s workers were erecting scaffolding so they could continue to chop historic details off the old school’s exterior — providing a stop-work order is lifted — Rosen said, “The community has spent years and a great amount of effort getting landmark designation for the old P.S. 64. Mr. Singer has acted with maliciousness in stripping this building. He’s mocked this community. I can’t imagine what he would do if he were in control of St. Brigid’s.”

Singer says the city is “forcing” him to strip the details off the building, since it won’t extend his demolition permit, which expires next month. The developer hopes to overturn the building’s June landmarking in court by stripping the exterior using his pre-existing permit that was issued two years ago.

Rosen recently floated the idea to The Villager that the church could build a new facility on two adjacent lots that are part of the St. Brigid’s property, including a vacant lot in the block’s interior and another vacant lot east of the church. The new building could use the church’s air rights, Rosen said.

Told of Rosen’s idea, Singer said he’s interested and would like to hear more about it.

Paul Dougherty, a member of the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s, referred questions to Rosen of E.V.C.C., saying that the old P.S. 64 issue was “too loaded” for him to comment on Singer’s offer. However, Jerome O’Connor, another member of the committee, said while he’s not as familiar with the old P.S. 64 struggle, he’s willing to listen to Singer’s offer to try to save the church.

“What would he want in exchange?” O’Connor asked. “I would talk with anybody. I’m not part of E.V.C.C. I’m involved with the church. I’ve only heard the E.V.C.C. side of the story…. I know he bought the building when people were giving them away because no one would take them.”

O’Connor is also calling on Mayor Bloomberg, who is currently in Ireland where he is honoring New York’s historic Fighting 69th Brigade, to state his opinion on what he thinks should happen to St. Brigid’s.

“Bloomberg’s over in Ireland….but the first captain of the Fighting 69th came from St. Brigid’s,” said O’Connor.

“I was surprised to see him there,” said Councilmember Mendez of Singer’s appearance at the St. Brigid’s fundraiser. She said he came up to speak to her but she told him she couldn’t.

“He’s suing the city and my name is in the lawsuits. I told him his attorneys can talk to my attorneys,” said Mendez, who has a confidentiality agreement with Singer stemming from their negotiations on July 6 over the old P.S. 64. Told of Singer’s latest offer, she said, “I don’t know what he means by that. I don’t know if it’s part of a new offer or part of the CHARAS/old P.S. 64 offer.”

Meanwhile, archdiocese spokesperson Zwilling last week told The Villager that the windows at St. Brigid’s Church that demolition workers smashed with long crowbars at the end of last month — to the anguish of protesters who pleaded with the workers to stop the destruction — weren’t stained glass but less-valuable painted glass.

“We had them evaluated and they were not stained glass,” Zwilling said, noting he personally requested the evaluation more than a year ago. Not only were they not monetarily worth as much as stained glass, but some of the windows had been painted over “numerous times” and so were not original, Zwilling said. The archdiocese does sometimes remove stained glass windows and store them for reuse in other churches, he noted.

“Everything that was of historical or liturgical value [from St. Brigid’s] has been removed and put in storage,” Zwilling said.

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