By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
(RNS) Ten years after tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed by falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers, church leaders reached an agreement Friday (Oct. 14) to rebuild at Ground Zero.
The church, founded by Greek immigrants in 1916, sat in the shadow of the twin towers and was the only religious building to be completely destroyed during the 9/11 attacks.
Under the agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop a lawsuit filed in February against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls rebuilding at Ground Zero.
The agreement marks a major win for the tiny church, which insisted on sticking to a preliminary agreement to exchange their original location at 155 Cedar Street -- now part of a vehicle security center -- for a larger piece of property at 130 Liberty Street.
The agreement allows the church to build a 4,100-square-foot church and interfaith bereavement center at 130 Liberty Street in exchange for dropping all litigation against city officials.
"With this agreement, we are continuing New York's collective healing, restoration, and resurgence," Cuomo said in a statement. "Now we are finally returning this treasured place of reflection to where it belongs."
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said construction on the church is scheduled to begin in 2013, once underground modifications are made to the future church site.
Stavros Papagermanos, a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said some funds have already been raised for reconstruction, but could not say how much the project would cost or how long it would take.
Negotiations over rebuilding broke down in 2008 as church officials accused the Port Authority of ignoring the church in the reconstruction plans. The Port Authority, in turn, accused the church of ever-escalating demands.
The church said it had been promised $20 million and the parcel at 130 Liberty Street because the vehicle security facility made the church's original site no longer viable. Last year, the Port Authority said it supported "the return of the church to its original home" on Cedar Street.
Cuomo intervened earlier this year, appointing engineers to study alternate sites for the church. A statement on Friday from the Port Authority said the study concluded that "structural issues could be resolved" to build the church at 130 Liberty Street.
As part of the agreement, the Port Authority will pay for all below-ground construction and the church will pay for anything built above ground. "There will be no payments made by the Port Authority to the church," the statement said.
Officials said construction will also have no impact on the World Trade Center site.
"Our pledge is to be a witness for all New Yorkers, that freedom of conscience and the fundamental human right of free religious expression will always shine forth in the resurrected St. Nicholas Church," said Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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