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Synagogue Left to Rot After Air Rights Deal Goes South

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Lots of churches and synagogues — especially in Manhattan — are surviving (or trying to) these days by selling off air rights and/or parts of their buildings to real estate developers. With the story of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center in Washington Heights, the Times brings us what pretty much amounts to a worst case scenario for one of those deals. In 2005, with the synagogue struggling, the air rights and half the building's lobby were sold to Rutherford "Ruddy" Thompson, who planned a 23-story, 144-unit tower for the adjacent site and promised to rehab the Jewish Center in the process. Construction on the project started in 2008 and Thompson had just enough time to completely gut the synagogue and partially excavate the neighboring site before the housing bubble burst and his loan servicer, Amalgamated Bank, cut him off after he'd received about 12 percent of his loan.

Thompson has been fighting foreclosure ever since, and the synagogue has been fighting its own legal battle as it had procured a letter from the bank that stipulated that Amalgamated would still advance the money for the synagogue's rehabilitation even if the site was foreclosed upon. The bank maintains that the letter is not legally binding and has already tried to settle once, unsuccessfully. (To make matters even worse, the congregant who had struck the original deal, a lawyer, died in 2009 of cancer.) The congregation has been bouncing around between temporary homes ever since and today is no closer to having a habitable synagogue of its own that it was six years ago. Think of this as a cautionary tale.
· A Deal That Collapsed Leaves a Manhattan Synagogue in Shambles [NYT]
· New 23-Story Hudson Heights Apartment Tower Unfrozen [Curbed]
· Other religious institution conversion news [Curbed]