New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
On Wednesday, February 26, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, together with leading Trustees of the Friends of Saint Nicholas, held a national informational call-in regarding the restart of construction of Saint Nicholas National Shrine at Ground Zero. “This church will become a touchstone for all of Orthodoxy in the United States,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros, “and it will be a beacon for all people of faith and goodwill to hold dear as a memorial to those who perished on 9/11.”
Joining His Eminence in the call-in were Dennis Mehiel, Chairman of Friends of St. Nicholas, John Catsimatidis, Trustee of “Friends” and Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, Michael Psaros, Vice-Chairman of the “Friends,” and Richard Browne, COO of Construction for the Saint Nicholas National Shrine.
Beginning the call-in, Dennis Mehiel, Chairman of “Friends of St. Nicholas,” welcomed all clergy and laity to the call and spoke briefly before introducing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros.
Dennis Mehiel stated that he, as Chairman of Friends of St. Nicholas, and everyone involved in “Friends” are deeply invested in the development of Saint Nicholas National Shrine at Ground Zero, which “we have all imagined for so many years,” and totally committed to “making sure that accurate information is available to everyone in our community, at all times. We’re invested in full transparency, but we also have to rely on all of you, the people who are supporting this effort financially, and the clergy of the Archdiocese, to amplify the information that you learn and to share it with your friends and with your neighbors so that we get accurate information out throughout our community.”
John Catsimatidis thanked Dennis Mehiel, Michael Psaros and the Friends of St Nicholas who worked with Father Alex Karloutsos and raised 40 million dollars since the 1st of the year for Saint Nicholas National Shrine, and stated that it is his responsibility and that of “all who are in the Archdiocese to make sure that we’re going in the right direction.” He extended this responsibility to “also protect against other things about which some may have heard… there’s so much fake news going into our community by individuals that I think that are not true.”
Catsimatidis has decided to challenge those individuals, to take them to court to be put under oath, and “if it’s not true. they’ll have to admit it’s not true and face the penalties,” he said.
Thanking Mehiel and Catsimatidis, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros said,
“The truth is, my dear friends, that turning this project around has been the work of everyone involved, and we are fortunate enough to have the kind of lay leadership that has been able to effect the changes that were necessary. We are now on the road to recovery across all the institutions of the Archdiocese, but the St. Nicholas church remains the single most important effort that we have ever undertaken.
This church will become a touchstone for all of Orthodoxy in the United States
and it will be a beacon for all people of faith and goodwill to hold dear as a memorial to those who perished on 9/11.”
“I am proud to say that thanks to the Friends of St. Nicholas and the extraordinary work of Father Alex Karloutsos, we have received donations now exceeding the 40 million dollars needed to complete our National Shrine. The work is proceeding with due haste and we are scheduled to open the church on September 11, 2021.
“Michael Psaros has been playing key roles in a variety of capacities in much of this process of recovery,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros introducing the Vice Chairman of “Friends,” “First, he served as Treasurer of the Archdiocese to set the finances aright. Second, he has been one of the most eloquent and vocal public advocates for completing St. Nicholas. Third, he serves today as the Vice Chairman to the Friends of St. Nicholas, and I’m proud to call him my friend, and to call on him to introduce this most significant update.”
Michael Psaros began by explaining that the new, not-for-profit organization “Friends,” created in 2019 after extensive negotiations with the State of New York, Governor Cuomo, and the Port Authority of the New York and New Jersey, “has exclusive responsibility for rebuilding the St. Nicholas National Shrine. ‘Friends’ is responsible for raising the money to rebuild St. Nicholas, for supervising and managing its construction, and for conducting appropriate audits.”
“The total cost to complete the National Shrine will be 81 to 82 million, of which approximately 39 to 40 million was spent before the suspension of construction in December 2017,” said, Psaros, providing a cost breakdown. “This means 42 million is required to complete the construction of the church, if, and only if, it continues without interruption after construction begins—and it has begun. Any delay or interruption of construction may result in an increased cost to complete.”
“Now, we have very exciting news. I am pleased to report that by the Grace of God and because of the leadership of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, “Friends” has raised over 45 million of cash and in pledges since we launched fundraising on January 2, subsequent to a very historic meeting between His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Father Karloutsos, Governor Cuomo, and Mr. Rick Cotton, Executive Director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at which Archons Catsimatidis and Mehiel and I were also present.”
“The math is very simple. It’s as follows: As I said, we need 42 million dollars to complete the National Shrine. I am pleased to report that Friends has already made a cash payment of 5.7 million dollars in January to a critical subcontractor responsible for the fabrication of the exterior curtain wall, and that “Friends” currently has 2.2 million dollars cash on hand today, resulting in an additional funding need of 34 million dollars: I am very pleased, in fact thrilled, to report that “Friends” has 39 million dollars in pledges to satisfy the remaining 34 million required to complete the National Shrine.” “‘Friends’ progress has exceeded all expectations on the fundraising front.”
“Since January 2, “Friends” has received many large donations, but I would like to highlight four received over the past month.” These are We thank the founders of Faith: An Endowment for Orthodoxy and Hellenism for its recent 20 million dollars pledge that will soon be converted into cash. The faith, philotimo and philanthropia of the founders is humbling. Please note that thirteen or more of the founders of “Faith” had each donated one million dollars to St. Nicholas personally in addition to their donation through “Faith.” We also thank the Spanos family of California for its absolutely breathtaking, stunning, and humbling 10-million-dollar donation. We thank Leadership 100 for its 6 million dollar total donation, including 5 million of which was approved last week in Florida. We also thank Mr. George Marcus for his 3-million-dollar donation. Since Father Alex launched fundraising for St. Nicholas all those years ago almost thirty families in our organizations, such as Archons, AHEPA, Philoptochos, etc., have donated over 1 million dollars each.”
Time does not allow “Friends” to properly recognize and thank each donor in every metropolis and parish in the Holy Archdiocese, said Psaros, however, the National Shrine a donor wall will recognize each and every donor and a digital system similar to that used at Ellis Island will reference donations. “…With this system the faithful in the future will know who contributed to the establishment of the National Shrine.”
“Friends” will continue to fundraise until the National Shrine is completed and is open. The organization’s intent is to create an endowment of a minimum of 20 million dollars to support the church, a considerable amount of which is already covered. “The election and enthronement of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros will be the catalyst for the completion of the National Shrine,” said Psaros, “His enthronement and the related change in the Archdiocesan leadership led by Archon Catsimatidis restored the confidence of Governor Cuomo, the State of New York, the Port Authority, and the donor base of the St. Nicholas project.” Noting the importance of Dennis Mehiel’s critical relationship with the State of New York and Father Alexander Karloutsos to the success of the project, Psaros concluded, saying, “To all of you with humility and prayer, I say Aξιοι.”
Introducing Richard Browne, “a proud Ελληνα,” the managing partner in Sterling Project Development Group, an affiliate of Sterling Equities, that is involved in approximately 12 billion dollars’ worth of development projects across its advisory portfolio, and the ownership group that owns and operates the New York Mets baseball team, Psaros spoke of Browne’s successsful career as a builder, a commercial building owner and project consultant who has been involved in the coordination and supervision of over 7 billion dollars worth of commercial and sports-related property and said, “We are very grateful that Richard stepped forward to volunteer to serve as COO of “Friends.”
Browne, a Greek American who has worked in downtown Manhattan since1986, replied that he is honored to serve and to help assure the completion of the project “and to be a shepherd of the hard-earned money that so many of you have contributed. We pledge that it will be kept very safe; it will be dedicated to this project and this project only. When he heard of the suspension of the project, he offered to help in any way he could. Browne said that the project is “of great personal importance to me,” and related that he and his father owned a building, in the family since 1969, that was only two blocks away from the original St. Nicholas. “As life would have it, with all its symmetry, my current office at Sterling Project Development is in 4 World Trade Center; right outside the front door is St. Nicholas.”
Browne engaged in the project in earnest in late summer, 2019, when it was “finally time to mobilize and do the outreach, knowing that it was becoming imminent what funds could be raised. “The arrival of the new Archbishop has been a boost of new energy for the project.”
“Thankfully, now, after we’ve all waited a very long time for the clouds to clear and for the incredible effort made to revitalize this project and raise sufficient money to not only restore our credibility in the marketplace with a project team, general contractors, architects, engineers, consultants, not to mention the Port Authority—we’re now finally ready to unveil this project and complete it once and for all in a way that the community can all be proud of.”
Browne pointed out that continuity can be lost with a suspension of a project, as circumstances and priorities change, but because of the critical importance of the St. Nicholas Shrine “not only to our faith but to Ground Zero, to New York, and the world as a whole as a symbol of finally completing the healing process from the attacks of September 11,” this didn’t happen. “When the entire design team and construction team, the general contractor, Skanska, and all 35 or 40 subcontractors that had been involved in the project have been contacted that this project is ready to restart, they have all said, ‘We will drop what we are doing; we will put the right people back in place, and we will complete this project and this journey together.’” It’s about building something and being part of something that’s larger than you, and I think everybody gets it regardless of what your faith is.”
In an update of “where we are today,” Browne gave as much detail as possible in the time allotted. “We have updated and conformed the plans and made sure that they’re fully coordinated. We have done an investigation of the physical condition of the building, which has sat idle. The building was about 25 to 30% completed. With a partially completed shell, sitting in the elements for two and a half years, obviously some wear and tear has been endured, so that had to be assessed and looked at with mitigation plans formed. So all of that is established. We have to do some remedial work…none of this is major. It’s nothing like the building has to be taken down or put up again. We’re in a good place. We’ve got to take a step or two back from a physical perspective before we can put permanent work in place and that work is ongoing now in conjunction with our friends at the Port Authority.
A draft, a construction contract to reinstate the full project with Skanska is currently being finalized. “Friends” was able to provide funding to resume the fabrication of the facade of the building, which requires materials and manufacturing in four different countries in Europe. “This has been going on for six weeks and is the critical point that we need in order to assure an opening for Sept 11, 2021.” Browne reported that waterproofing work mobilization is expected onsite in March, and the unveiling of the building from the shroud placed over it as protection against the elements. Likely in early May, elements of the facade and skylights will be installed. “We all are bought in on the schedule; we understand the priority of it and we are working every day to assure a timely completion and a quality that we can all be proud of,” he reassured, “Thank you again for allowing me to get involved in this project. It means a lot to me and I’ll do all I can to be worthy of this opportunity. Thank you.
In a call-in, Bishop Alexios added that the 20th anniversary of the Archdiocese also takes place in 2021.
In his closing remarks His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophororos thanked everyone for their participation in the call-in and Bishop Alexios for his contribution.
“We all pray that through the intercessions of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker wonders will be accomplished at Ground Zero, and through the faithfulness and the generosity of the people of God that the dream will be achieved and that by the grace of God St. Nicholas will open, as already said, on September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Our mission to bring solace, to bring peace and hope to the world will only have just begun.”