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Posted: 2019-02-11 15:20:12

February 8, 2019; New York Times

We don’t often think about religious institutions as real estate magnates. Some churches and other places of worship sit on very valuable pieces of land, but the church as a landlord? That just doesn’t compute. Well, we need to think again; at least some sacred places are also the seats of big business, and when that happens, there are issues.

As many houses of worship struggle to meet their upkeep and expenses, their congregants are used to being asked for contributions and attend or sell tickets to the occasional special fundraiser. In the meantime, those who sit on the boards of these religious nonprofits must address the costs in their budgets. While exempt from property tax where the edifices sit, they still must deal with aging buildings, crumbling infrastructure that may not meet current code, and congregants with limited funds to contribute.

Into this mix comes the blessing and the curse of historic preservation: On the one hand, the mantle of a historic site brings with it funding and eligibility for grants. On the other, the historic nature of one’s building may prevent one from making needed changes. Many find the idea of being a historic site attractive as they fight to maintain houses of worship that stand as lone sources for help in communities in need.

In New York City, one church stands out for its savvy use of its physical location, land holdings, and historic preservation status—and general good luck in avoiding disasters. That’s Trinity Church, part of an Episcopal parish in Lower Manhattan that dates to the 17th century. Visitors flock to its cemetery to pay homage at the graves of Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. But if they look beyond the gravestones, they will see a church that has grown into a $6 billion real estate company.

Recent years have been good to the church and the rest of its campus. St. Paul’s Chapel, near the World Trade Center, escaped destruction during the terrorist attacks of Sept.

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