Anyone who has walked by the construction site of the new Lincoln Square Synagogue on Amsterdam Avenue lately has surely noticed that there’s not much construction going on. This week, the prestigious Modern Orthodox shul announced on its website that construction on the three-story, 50,000-square-foot- building has indeed halted.
In an update dated Oct. 11, the synagogue said that “due to a number of construction issues, the cost of the new building has run higher than originally expected.”
The land swap that enabled Lincoln Square to sell its old building and erect the new one a few blocks north on Amsterdam totaled approximately $20 million. The cost of the new building was originally believed to be approximately $28 million. At a topping-out ceremony in December 2009, the cost was put at $30 million.
A source tells The Jewish Week that the shul now must raise an additional $15 million to $17 million to complete the building — money that it likely does not yet have.
The source says that a slab of glass, part of the shul’s $3 million glass façade, is sitting in China but can’t be shipped because of a lack of funds.
The synagogue also may be several months behind on its $40,000-a-month payment to the developer, American Continental Properties, Inc. “They’re behind on everything,” the source said.
An easement squabble with a residential building behind the new synagogue — resulting in a payout — apparently also set the project back.
In its update, the shul said, “In order to raise additional funds, the synagogue will be seeking joint venture partners or a naming donor before resuming construction.”
In the statement, the chair of the shul’s capital campaign committee, Phyllis Getzler, is quoted as saying, “In this economic climate, many nonprofit institutions are rethinking economic efficiencies: taking on a partner might be a replicable model for other institutions around the country on how to work with complementary organizations. We believe that what started out as a challenge might actually turn into a wonderful opportunity for our synagogue.”
Lincoln Square isn’t the only big building project in the Jewish community in Manhattan to have fallen prey to rising construction costs and the lingering impact of the recession. Two years ago the Ramaz School on the Upper East Side shelved an ambitious project — estimated at $80 million — that would have created 18 floors of luxury condos atop a newly built Lower School.
Morton Landowne, a former Lincoln Square president, confirms the project’s cost over-runs, adding that the easement squabble with the nearby apartment building, part of Lincoln Towers, “set the project back by about a year and cost about $1 million” in legal fees and materials. He added that new synagogues projects in Englewood, N.J., Young Israel of New Rochelle and Hebrew Institute of Riverdale have all run “about $10 million” more than expected.
Landowne says the shul’s capital campaign has raised $7 million thus far and that in April the synagogue authorized $5 million in borrowing for the project. He said the synagogue does not plan to use all of its 11 classrooms and that one of the ideas floated is to rent space to a local college or school. “There’s plenty of opportunity to share space, ideally with an institution that is complementary,” he said.
He said he was confident that once the building, which he said has already won some design awards, is completed, “it might be attractive to a philanthropist to memorialize it. Between a partner and a naming gift we’re hoping we can get the project completed.”
Should Lincoln Square come up with the funds or a joint venture partner to complete the project, it is facing another daunting problem — this one of demographics: the Upper West Side Jewish community seems to be moving steadily northward, and 69th Street isn’t as attractive an address as it once was.