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. Last 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.”
Also last week the synagogue announced that its president, Scott Liebman, who has led the shul during construction of the new synagogue, was stepping down.
The two announcements signal a setback for Lincoln Square, which rose to prominence in the mid- to late-1960s under the charismatic leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, now the chief rabbi of Efrat in Israel.
The land swap that enabled Lincoln Square to sell its old building to a developer and erect the new one a few blocks north on Amsterdam netted the synagogue 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 told The Jewish Week that the shul now must raise an additional $15 million to $17 million to get the building completed — money that it likely does not yet have.
The source said 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.”
The major building project at Lincoln Square isn’t the only one 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 to be $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. and in Riverdale at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale have 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, was 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.
This story was first reported on The Jewish Week website on Oct. 15.