The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, at its February meeting in San Antonio, accepted a five-phase process that could lead to a move of the national offices to a new facility on the campus of the General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York.
The Memorandum of Intent (text at http://www.gts.edu/), passed earlier by the GTS board, “constitutes an expression of current interest and intent” by both parties to proceed and it outlines the “essential terms and conditions” for a joint development of offices and a conference center.
The first phase, already underway, must determine space requirements of both parties, look at the budget, “review ownership structure options,” and determine the value of the seminary’s property as part of the development.
For the church, the biggest issue is the viability of the conference center, according to Pat Mordecai, assistant to the presiding bishop for administration. She said that phase one could be completed by the time the council meets again in June. The second phase, which must seek zoning approvals, could take 14-18 months. A Definitive Agreement between the church and seminary is necessary, she pointed out, before the plans could proceed.
“We are still on board and think this can work,” said Dall Forsythe of New York in his presentation to the council. “The train is moving down the track but it will make some stops when either party can get off.” He said that he thinks “it will work out fine but we won’t know until all the figures are available.”
As a separate issue, the church must decide what to do with the Church Center on Second Avenue in Manhattan. Treasurer Ralph L. O’Hara said that there is an advantage to owning New York City real estate at this time so there is a possibility the church might decide to renovate and lease the building. “The recommitment of the Episcopal Church to a presence in New York City at this time will be a powerful statement to the people of this grieving city and nation,” said the memorandum.
Phase three involves an agreement on the design, bidding for the construction, approving a final development budget and financing structure—a process that could take another 6-9 months, according to Mordecai. She estimated that construction of the offices on the Ninth Avenue boundary of the campus would take about 24 months and the conference center about 18 months so that the actual move would not be possible until the end of 2006 or early the following year. There is some disagreement on which of the two projects would come first, she noted. The church is arguing for the offices, the seminary for the conference center since it would be less disruptive.
The use of the conference center is still under discussion. “We acknowledge the importance for both the Church Center and the seminary to retain their respective identities and missions, but through the conference and education center a new collaboration and synergy will become possible,” the memorandum observed. The interaction and dialogue between the church and the seminary may provide “new ways of serving and new forms of leadership” and an opportunity to “explore new ways of enhancing their ministries through cooperative sharing of resources. By bringing together the leadership of the church with educational resources in an international city, this proposal will enhance the role of the Episcopal Church throughout the Anglican Communion.”
The memorandum was signed by Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and Dean Ward Ewing of the seminary.