Monday, January 9, 2012

Disposition Of Former LDS Meetinghouse And Adjoining Lot In Harlem The Subject Of Local Debate

New LDS chapel in Harlem
In 2005, Harlem’s first congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints moved into a larger, newly built chapel at 128th Street and Lenox Avenue. Left behind was a windowless, one-story building and an adjoining vacant lot on 129th Street between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Since 2005, the Harlem First Ward and some of its non-Mormon neighbors still use the vacant lot to grow vegetables, train Cub Scouts and host family barbecues.

However, according to the New York Times, the LDS Church has decided to sell the parcel to Yoni Bak of Kane Ventures; although the sale price was not disclosed, similar parcels in the area have sold for $1 million. Bak declined to specify his plans, although he says his company strives to preserve local character, but his website shows an image of a six-story luxury condominium building under construction two blocks away. This triggers fears of gentrification and overpricing among some local residents.

Local LDS Church officials emphasized that the sale did not reflect a lack of concern for the neighborhood. “The church has deep respect and regard for the traditional character of the community of Harlem,” said Ahmed Corbitt, a church spokesman. But he explained that since the new chapel was financed by by the tithing of Mormons worldwide, selling the old property would replenish those coffers and help finance churches, agricultural projects and bishop's storehouses in needy places around the world. He added that while input from local congregations is solicited, they don't have the global perspective available at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

The Rev. Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park Association sought to buy the church land at a discount. Paul Coppa, a lawyer for the trust, said that church officials in Utah had no interest in his proposal and that while he believed he could have made a deal with the local congregation, he was told they had no say.

Wayne Collier, a ward member, said the church was missing an opportunity. He other ward members had proposed turning the land into a welfare center, with a cannery, storehouse and employment center — all institutions the church currently has scattered from Inwood to New Jersey. He said his proposal was to keep the garden and build the center next door, with rental apartments above it to finance that project and others.

This is an example of a situation in which an extra dose of faith in Church leadership is useful. On the surface, building a welfare center in Harlem would seem like a marvelous idea; it would not only connect the LDS Church more closely with the local community, but would dispel suspicion that the Church is interested only in proselytization. It would be fine if the LDS Church was merely in maintenance mode.

But the LDS Church is in expansion mode as well. There remain many parts of the world where the LDS Church has yet to establish a foothold. Before Jesus Christ can return, the Gospel must be carried to all parts of the globe. This includes the Middle East and China, which have so far been resistant to the Gospel. Once the Church can access these areas, chapels and temples must follow. By selling real estate to the public at premium prices at prime locations, the Church gets valuable seed money which it can spend to start such projects without begging predatory bankers for loans at usurious rates. The borrower is always servant to the lender.

Read more about the financial practices of the LDS Church HERE.

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