Flushing worshipers push to protect Bowne church

By Cynthia Koons

With development springing up all around downtown Flushing, members of the Bowne Street Community Church at 143-11 Roosevelt Ave. are asking Community Board 7 to help preserve their Presbyterian house of worship.

It has been a year and a half since their 112-year-old church survived a Manhattan developer’s attempt to raze it and build a 20-story apartment building and new church on its property.

Church leaders supported the deal, which would have included a $1 million donation to the church, but members of the congregation were adamantly opposed and succeeded in halting the development.

“I’m here to beg everybody to support us to save this church,” member George Hong said during public comment at the CB 7 meeting Monday night.

He was joined by two other church members who requested the community board support an initiative to landmark the church. A spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission confirmed that the church was scheduled for a public hearing about its status for preservation, but a date had not be selected yet.

Hong’s comments came two weeks after CB 7 voted against a proposal to build a 17-story condominium complex atop the landmarked RKO Keith’s Theatre lobby, which raised fears of oversized building in downtown Flushing.

Church members’ opposition to the proposed multimillion-dollar development at the Bowne Street Community Church kept church leaders from allowing the Clarett Group to proceed with its plans for the property.

But congregants are not certain the church’s leaders will stave off development forever.

“If it is not landmarked, the church will build on it,” Linda Mandell said.

The statuesque, red-brick church sits on a corner lot and is famed for its Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Members of the congregation want the community board to vote for landmark status for the church even though any such vote is not binding on the Landmarks Commission. If church leaders oppose the landmarking, they would have to fight the move at both the local and the city level.

Calls to the Bowne Street Community Church were not returned for comment.

Keng Chen, who was governing board chairman of the church last year, said Asia Bank assessed the Roosevelt Avenue property’s value at more than $10 million.

When the church entertained the idea of development, he said they negotiated with only one company.

“Why exclusively give it to one developer?” he asked.

At the time the architects were composing drafts of the apartment complex and new church for the property, church leader Lawrence Clepper said the costs of maintaining the facility were depleting the church’s endowment.

Chen refuted the idea that the church was losing money. In the institution’s financial statements, the market value of the trust fund at the end of 2003 was calculated at $1.6 million.

“Don’t spend that money,” Chen said.

The church has about 100 members, who are divided into two groups that attend either Taiwanese or English services on Sundays. There are 11 employees on the payroll, Chen said, with one pastor earning more than $70,000 a year. The total payroll, according to financial statements, cost the church $260,000 in 2003.

The deal church leaders and Clarett struck, he said, would have included $3 million for a new church facility and $1 million as a donation to the Bowne Street Community Church, he said.

“Only one word,” he said. “Greedy.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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