MHANY and Friends Celebrate 1921 Cortelyou Road

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA, Partner

This week, ESKW/Architects was honored to attend long-time client MHANY Management’s annual benefit in support of their mission of developing affordable housing for low- and moderate-income New York families. This year, MHANY’s event celebrated the innovative development partnership at 1921 Cortelyou Road. In addition to the wonderful company, there was great music, bowling, and plenty of tasty food.

While speaking to the collected group, Executive Director Ismene Speliotis explained that while every development has its own interesting story, 1921 Cortelyou Road’s is especially remarkable. She invited some of the key players to share a bit of our own stories related to the project. The mini speeches were beautiful, and they inspired us as the architects to share a bit more here.

ESKW/A’s introduction to the Baptist Church of the Redeemer at 1921 Cortelyou Road was through a limited design competition in 2008. Our scheme was selected as the winning design (see below right), and our team was poised to bring a new church combined with affordable and supportive housing into reality. At the event this week, Reverend Sharon Williams shared her perspective from 2008: “A vision without action is an illusion.” Unfortunately, the development team at the time was unable to take solid action so the project paused.

So let’s back up. The phenomenon at work is this: Many churches around the city, and specifically Brooklyn (the “borough of churches”), own properties that need significant repair and maintenance. As congregations age, care of the facilities becomes challenging. With the real estate market being as competitive as it is in NYC, developers look for creative opportunities to purchase or partner with individuals or organizations such as churches that can benefit from a development team’s expertise. The concern in this scenario is to protect the church organization from predatory development. Enter non-profit organizations such as LISC NYC who assist in pairing developers, property owners, and attorneys who help protect the interests of the churches.

In the case of 1921 Cortelyou Road, the Baptist Church of the Redeemer needed a match. After making a connection with the Church through the success of the design competition, ESKW/A Partner Andrew Knox went to work to help find that match. He found it in Ismene and MHANY Management along with Brooklyn Community Services and Turning Point Brooklyn. The shared goals and personal chemistry among the groups and the Reverend was exactly what was needed to jump-start the project.

To say “the rest is history” is a bit simplistic for any development, but overly true for this project. MHANY and their team along with ESKW/A set out to do something special in the mixed use of residential and church uses. The intention was always for a successful partnership between the two and that each could support the other. The Church has a long history of community support and inter-faith advocacy, and they run a weekly soup kitchen program. When the Reverend learned more about the missions of Turning Point and Brooklyn Community Services and that theirs is the only NYC program dedicated to housing homeless young women between the ages of 18-24, she wanted to support even further. Out of her portion of the development funds, she decided to dedicate church space for Turning Point Brooklyn’s “We Care About You” Shower Program for the homeless. March is also Women’s History Month and this project was unusual for typical development in that a majority of the team members and leaders are women. Rev. Williams gathered them all for a photo at the groundbreaking.

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The project story is also one of preservation and history. The existing 1920s neo-Romanesque church building had been unused for many years. Its handsome exterior was past the point of repair; however, many interior elements were intact and could be salvaged for reuse.

The architectural team identified items, reviewed the proposal with the church, and documented pieces for careful salvage by Mega Contracting Group, the general contractor, and their demolition team. Pews were photographed, measured, and cataloged. Stained glass panels were documented, and designs prepared for new interior display. Hymn boards and other easily movable items were prepared for secure storage and reuse. To everyone’s great lamentation, it was not feasible to save everything; the brass pipe organ and 24-inch diameter, 30-foot tall granite columns couldn’t be salvaged.

The design process for the Baptist Church was immersive, pun intended. Architects attended Rev. Williams’ service and spent time learning about their full-immersion baptism ceremony, which is central to their doctrine. Understanding the procession of the service, and the needs for changing rooms and accommodations for all ages who come to be baptized, the architects sculpted the sanctuary accordingly. Sky lights and curved ceiling planes make the new sanctuary welcoming, calm, and modern, allowing the service to be the feature. Physical and virtual models were studied to ensure that daylight washed the sanctuary as intended.

The approximately 15,000 square feet of church space is separate from the housing with only utility service spaces being shared. The 76 housing units are an integrated mix of senior housing, affordable housing, and supportive housing with common spaces for programs and resident use including a community room, an activity room, laundry, and two rooftop terraces. The units are studio, one-, and two-bedroom units each with solid wood floors, solid wood kitchen millwork, and large windows.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 30, 2018, and currently the project is under construction. The existing church has been demolished, the site has been excavated, and new foundations are in place. Early this spring, first floor planks will be set, and soon the corner of Ocean Avenue and Cortelyou Road will come to life as the nine-story building takes shape. And you can bet on the ribbon-cutting ceremony being one that shouldn’t be missed!

We’re excited to share more of the background and progress of this remarkable project, so stay tuned. Congratulations to MHANY Management for bringing us all together and making sure that this beautiful vision didn’t become an illusion.

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Office Field Trip to Sharks!

Last month our office toured the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit at the New York Aquarium. Having served as Associate Architect and Architect of Record on this dynamic and highly technical project, we were very excited and proud to show-and-tell the exhibit with the entire office. See our photos below, and head to Coney Island while the weather is still nice and check it out for yourself.

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Breaking Ground at 3500 Park Avenue

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Attendees included Mega Contracting Group, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Boston Financial Investment Management, and JPMorgan Chase.

July 12 marked the groundbreaking ceremony for 3500 Park Avenue in the Bronx.

“New affordable housing units are coming to our borough, giving many a new lease on life—literally,” said News 12 The Bronx Anchor Dave Roush, in the video at the end of the post.

When completed (in about two years), the 7-story building will offer 69 supportive housing units for formerly homeless veterans with disabilities, adults with mental illness, and seniors. An additional 46 affordable housing units are open to those earning 60% of the area median income, to be selected through a lottery system.

“Claremont Village in the Bronx is a little removed in regards to proximity to public transit, so The Bridge is super excited to incorporate a fresh, helpful, positive building in the neighborhood,” said Sunčića Jašarovič, one of our architectural designers on the project. “The client’s compassion for the community is always growing.”

Susan Wiviott, CEO of The Bridge, welcomed the gathering of developers, funding groups, architects, and media, stressing how desperately in need of affordable housing the city is. “It’s great to have everyone come together in support of our mission at an event like this,” she said. “It’s important to work with people you can trust.”

As the golden ceremonial shovels stood nearby, Nicole Ferreira, senior vice-president of multi-family finance with NYC Homes and Community Renewal, acknowledged that these projects take a lot of work to get off the ground and spoke about what the event and project represented.

“It’s important to us that no New Yorker is left behind,” said Ferreira. “This project is all about a celebration of a fresh start and a new hope. It will strengthen the Bronx community and economy.”

Greg Maher, executive director of the Leviticus Fund, echoed her remarks. “This is the largest acquisition loan in our history, and it’s in support of the largest project in The Bridge’s history,” he said. “This sends a message that vulnerable groups will not go overlooked in this city.”

For more information, see coverage from The Bronx Times and New York Nonprofit Media, and check out the local news report below. “That corner has been a little eyesore, so now it’ll bring some vitality back to the community and just give it more life,” Etta Ritter, a lifelong Bronx resident, told News 12.

We’re honored to be a part of the team and to serve this mission—and look forward to sharing construction updates!

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News 12: “Affordable housing project gets underway in the Bronx”