A mission-first roadmap for a growing ministry and its historic campus Church of St. Luke in the Fields
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields is a vibrant and inclusive Episcopal church known for its spiritual and social mission, brilliant choir, and beautiful block-wide campus. The Church has owned and occupied the block since the 1800s and recently looked to this real estate asset to support its growing programs and secure its financial future, with leadership from Denham Wolf.
In 1821, the cornerstone was laid for the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, an institution that has become widely recognized as an essential provider of services to disenfranchised groups throughout New York City, in particular because of its work with LGBTQ teens, homeless individuals, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
As the owner of a full, two-acre city block in the West Village, the Church of St. Luke in the Fields has always possessed a unique real estate asset with the possibility of significant development potential. In 2007, Denham Wolf was engaged by the Church to lead a strategic planning process, including a detailed site assessment, which would determine the physical and financial feasibility of development on its historic campus. Through this process, the Church hoped to identify specific real estate opportunities that would accommodate its growing physical needs, generate much-needed income, and achieve several related goals.
Among the project's multi-faceted goals was the aim that any development project had to allow for continuity of Church programming throughout the project's duration. From a longer-term perspective, it was essential to preserve optionality so that tomorrow’s leaders would be able to resiliently embrace future challenges and opportunities.
“From the beginning, the potential was clearly there to meet the Church’s goals. Our role was to create a development plan that would establish clear structure, process, and consensus within the organization, so that the potential could be achieved.”
—Paul Wolf, Co-President at Denham Wolf
In addition to being charged with achieving these important goals, Denham Wolf was faced with a rotating group of vestry members, the task of mitigating as much of the Church’s financial risk as possible, the rigors of achieving Landmarks Preservation Commission approval, and the conversion of St. Luke’s School into an independent entity. While a challenge, this latter occurrence presented a unique opportunity. Significant interest by both the Church and St. Luke’s School to maintain a mutually supportive relationship, despite the institutions’ independence from one another, opened the door for Denham Wolf to negotiate a 49-year ground-lease ground lease that has enabled the renovation and 20,000 square foot expansion of the School.
Building on the thoroughness of our team’s upfront planning and our clear and actionable guidance about the site’s development potential, Denham Wolf is now leading the implementation of an extensive and on-mission approach to private development on the Church’s campus. Denham Wolf’s Development Services experts guided the process of assembling a project team, which included architectural and legal experts as well as a development partner. Toll Brothers was selected as the latter, through a competitive RFP process administered by Denham Wolf; their project, an on-site 75,000 square foot residential building, will include the area’s first affordable units to be built in decades.
Our team then creatively conceived, persistently negotiated, and then carefully coordinated a 99-year ground-lease between the Church and Toll Brothers. In addition, Denham Wolf’s project managers are overseeing all new design and construction on the site, which has included selecting members of the design and construction teams.
As a result of our engagement, the Church will be able to meet the needs of their growing ministry, establish an endowment to help sustain the institution over the long-term, and generate funding for a new community center.