BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It seems there is chatter about, or perhaps it is serious consideration of, selling the property owned by the Armenian Diocese (Eastern USA) on which its St. Vartan Cathedral sits, just as that structure’s 50th anniversary hits this year. It is prime property in mid-town Manhattan, and clearly worth millions (based on VERY rough measurements off a computer monitor and a New York Times estimate of $90 million for an acre of land in the area, I get a figure of $75 million for the parcel in question).
I happened upon this issue through two letters to the editor published by the Armenian Mirror Spectator. It’s not clear to me as of this writing whether it is the land itself or just the air rights above it that are up for sale. The two letters I reference render this unclear to me. Perhaps it is both.
Regardless, such a sale would be a crime against our communities and nation. Owning property such as this parcel does not come easy. There is a reference in one of the letters to insufficient attention paid to the property’s needs by the relevant leadership. But it can’t be too late to fix the situation. If nothing else, the crooked catholicos under whose auspices this institution rests could cough up some of his ill-gotten gains, at least temporarily, to tide the cathedral over until a better, longer term solution can be found.
My thought is that such property should never be sold, keeping in mind Mark Twain’s famous advice – “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore” (yes, yes, I know, some miniscule acreage is being added through “reclamation” from the sea by dumping dirt and debris to extend coastlines, but that is insignificant). The type of arrangement that should be made is some sort of long term lease. Let whoever wants to build on it LEASE the land from the Diocese, for 50, 100, even 250 years. Just think of the income that would generate. The same could be done with air rights. And this could be done without even moving the cathedral, just build around it.
There is precedent in the Armenian community for smart property management. I have been told the story of Camp Haiastan’s neighboring golf course wanting to buy part of the camp’s property. If I remember correctly, it would have been on the shore of Uncas Pond. Fortunately, the members of the sitting board were clever enough to instead buy some more property and lease it to the golf course, thus not only making money annually, but enlarging the community’s holdings. Those who know the story better should correct and expand upon my presentation of it. This is the kind of smarts the relevant diocesan bodies need.
Two more recent examples, both involving community outrage and activism are Mashdotz Park in Yerevan and the Cilician Catholicossate Bird’s Nest property on the Mediterranean’s shore in Lebanon. Both were slated for development – commercial, crass, and totally inappropriate. Mashdotz is much needed park space in the heart of Yerevan. Bird’s Nest is where, in the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, orphans were fed, housed, and raised to become contributing citizens, Armenians. This is the kind of outcry from our community that must be heard now.
The sad, but somewhat attenuated case of the Arshag Dikranian School in Hollywood is another example. The Tekeyan Cultural Association, much to many people’s chagrin, closed down the school. The matter of what to do with the property was taken up by the board. Scuttlebutt has it that some Armenians tried to get the property for a song, but the board followed the advice of an outside property appraiser and eventually sold it for a respectable sum, roughly $15 million as predicted.
Then there is the still unresolved example of the AGBU and its shutdown of the Melkonian School in Cyprus. Fortunately, its plan to sell off the property entrusted to it by two brothers who wanted to educate Armenian kids has so far been frustrated through legal and political action taken by the Armenian community in Cyprus. Who knows, perhaps this gem might yet be salvaged.
At a time when the Catholicossate of Cilicia is fighting through Turkey’s courts for the return of its seat in Sis (I refuse to use the Turkish state’s imposed, cultural genocide inducing, name of the site), this sort of loss would be really heartbreaking.
So, back to the Eastern US Diocese and the St. Vartan parcel… C’mon New York’s Armenians! Step up! Picket the place and the people proposing to pawn off the property. Let’s show them and the world that’s it’s not only Yerevan’s Armenians that have the heart and spirit to advocate good governance!