Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Church off Washington Sq. looking to sell and move

By Albert Amateu

Washington Sq. United Methodist Church, long involved in a social action ministry and beset by unrelenting financial problems, is negotiating with potential buyers for the sale of the 144-year-old house of worship a half-block west of Washington Sq.

Rev. Bryan Hooper, pastor of the congregation, said this week that prospective buyers of the church at 135 W. Fourth St. and the adjacent parsonage include theater and dance companies. At the same time, the small congregation is looking for more financially manageable space in the Village, he added.

About 100 families are members of the church and from 50 to 70 worshippers attend Sunday services.

“Our church’s identity and work is a vital part of Greenwich Village and we will continue to be,” he said on Mon. Oct. 4. In addition to new space for worship and church business, the congregation is also looking for other space for its food program that dispenses free hot meals five days a week. A preschool day care, which rents space in the church but operates independently, will also have to find new quarters.

The congregation has been trying to deal with financial problems for decades but the burden has become overwhelming in the past two years. The cost of maintaining the church building, erected in 1860, is hard to judge with any accuracy, Hooper said. The church spends about $100,000 a year for minimal maintenance. “When a pipe breaks or something falls down, we fix it, but the building needs a lot of work,” he added. The parsonage next door, built around 1880, also needs work, he said.

The search for a buyer of the property began about a year ago. “We were going to see if we could find a group to share the building with us but we found that wouldn’t suit us,” said Hooper. “It’s impossible to say what the selling price will be. It could range from a few million to several million, depending on the buyer,” he said.

The church is located just inside the boundary of the Greenwich Village Historic District so demolition is unlikely and would make high-end residential or commercial development difficult. “We’re aware of the historic district limits and so are our prospective buyers,” Hooper said.

Washington Sq. Methodist Church has been the home over the past 40 years of social action groups ranging from Black Panthers to Metro Community Church. Gay Men’s Health Crisis, various dance, theater and music groups and community housing development organizations have found welcome homes in the building.

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