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Williamsburg Project Calls for Skybridge Between Landmarked Church and New Building

Rendering from Rodney Street showing a skybridge connecting St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to the upcoming building at 304 Rodney Street, also known as 326 Broadway. (Syndicate Architecture and Li/Saltzman Architects via LPC)

Jan. 18, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan

An unusual project is underway in Williamsburg involving a landmarked church and an upcoming residential tower connected by way of a skybridge.

Parkview Management, which is developing a 16-story building at 304 Rodney St., is working with St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church next door in what both parties consider to be a win-win project.

The developer, in a bid to construct a taller building and satisfy project demands, has cut a deal with the church not just for its air rights, but to also build a rooftop terrace on site that once formed part of its design.

The church will partly restore the 19th century structure with the funds from the sale, and will also allow the developer to have near-exclusive use of the new terrace to meet outdoor space requirements for the tower.

Residents will be able to freely access the terrace through a concrete skybridge outfitted with glass railings between the two buildings.

Both the developer and church, given its 2011 landmark status, have recently presented its plans to Community Board 1 and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for review before embarking on the project.

The upcoming 16-story building at 304 Rodney St. as seen behind St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Syndicate Architecture and Li/Saltzman Architects via LPC)

Parkview Management said it has drawn up a contract to purchase air rights from the church for approximately $3.5 million in a deal that took about five years to work out.

The air rights will up the building’s height from 10 stories to the 16 on the table. Retail and commercial space will make up the first five floors of the building, to be topped off with a residential portion containing 62 units.

The money from the sale, the church said in turn, will allow it to carry out much needed improvements and renovations to the rundown 135-year-old Rodney Street building.

Representatives from St. Paul’s appeared eager to finalize the partnership with their new neighbors at the Jan. 8 Community Board 1 meeting, noting that the transaction would mean “vital” improvements to the church.

While the sale contract requires that $1.2 million of the sale price be set aside for upgrades to the church, first built in 1884, the remaining funds will be available to maintain the church in years to come.

“We can make the parish hall more comfortable, functional, renovate the kitchen, improve the heating system and repair the stained glass windows,” said Gina Barros, council secretary of St. Paul’s and a Community Board 1 member, at the board meeting earlier this month.

During the construction of the terrace, the entirety of the church’s roof, which currently leaks, will be replaced.

Roof Design: Historic vs. Existing vs. Proposed. (Syndicate Architecture and Li/Saltzman Architects via LPC)

The church’s roofline, altered after a destructive fire in 1944, will also be restored to its original design.

The roof as seen today will be replaced with a steeper, taller gable that houses the new terrace, with the wooden cross to be preserved and sit atop the new roof.

Board members appeared intrigued by the project, but were skeptical of the usage agreement the developer struck with the church for the terrace.

Despite forming part of the structure, the terrace can only be in use by the church for a total of 16 days in a given year, with next-door tenants largely able to use the space from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The church, however, had assured the board’s land use committee after questioning that it was “completely satisfied” with the arrangement.

The Landmarks Preservation Committee, in a Jan. 15 hearing, also questioned some aspects of the deal.

Members questioned whether $1.2 million would be enough money to pay for all of the repairs, with the cost of replacing the church’s stained glass windows alone estimated to be around $700,000.

Others appeared displeased with the bridge, but had to weigh their concerns against the benefits the money from the sale will bring to the ailing church.

“I have sensed amongst the comments here a subtext of disappointment about the relationship between the proposed new building and the existing structure,” said Michael Goldblum, an LPC commissioner. “I share that subtext.”

Both Community Board 1 and Landmarks, however, ultimately voted to unanimously approve the project.

The project’s timeline is unclear, though work on the mixed-use tower dates back to 2015, two years after the developer purchased the property for $4.7 million.

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