Riverside Campus Development

Bookmark this page for the latest updates on Riverside’s comprehensive two city block campus development plans.

November, 2021:

The Riverside Church purchased McGiffert Hall from Union Theological Seminary in 2018, giving the Church full ownership of its entire two city block campus.  Spurred by the purchase of McGiffert, Riverside has been diligently and methodically examining how it can best provide for itself and the community through its real estate assets.  This process has involved a holistic approach that leaves no stone unturned, examining possibilities and permutations through the lenses of financial sustainability, community needs, missional alignment, and building for the future.  This process is still ongoing.

As many know, church membership in the United States is in decline as congregations grow older and larger numbers of younger generations do not regularly participate in church life.  This has had a ripple effect on churches large and small throughout the country, and historic churches such as Riverside are not immune.  The expenses incurred to physically maintain a large, nearly century old church like Riverside are immense, ranging from the everyday facility maintenance, to Facade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP, formerly Local Law 11) mandates, to periodic upkeep of specialized features such as stained glass, church bells, detailed iconography, and more.  Contrasted against a changing religious landscape, raising enough annual revenue to maintain the facility and do ministry – be what it is to be a church in the world per our United Church of Christ affiliation – is a challenge.

Against this backdrop, the Riverside Development Committee (RDC), led by Riverside congregants, was established by the Riverside Church Council to present a long-term vision for Riverside’s future that ensured financial sustainability, considered the expressed needs and desires of our congregation and the local community, and was grounded in our mission as a social justice church.  Balancing these sometimes divergent concerns is not easy in the light of ongoing Morningside Heights neighborhood development, and larger societal issues like gentrification, stagnant wages, lack of affordable housing, an increasing wealth divide, and many more.  It would be easy to simply maximize our financial position at the expense of the surrounding community; it’s much more challenging to ensure needed long-term revenues while also providing the community something of tangible value.  Finding the right balance is the sole objective of the RDC.

How do we determine what is most viable for Riverside?  Do we go big and bold or prioritize the least risky or disruptive?  Can we do both?  What’s most helpful for the community?  How do we strike the right balance between the financial and the missional?  When you think about it, the possibilities and permutations seem endless.

To do this work, the RDC has partnered with real estate experts Savills, affordable housing innovators Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and other consultants to better understand the myriad of options possible. We are in the process of retaining architects to conduct a feasibility study on the development of McGiffert and possibly the site of Stone Gym as affordable and/or supportive housing.  We anticipate we will understand the financial implications of this type of development by the end of Q1 2022.

We also received a $100,000 grant from Robin Hood Foundation to explore the development of a chain of bargain groceries in food insecure neighborhoods in New York, with one of those to be operated by Riverside Church.  We have retained Social Enterprise Group to work with us on this feasibility study.

The RDC’s Congregational Survey Committee has completed their work and will soon be publishing the results, which will include what our members see as the priorities for our programs and development. Those survey results will be posted on this page when they become available.

We don’t yet know what the final vision will be – that work is still ongoing, and we will share more information, ideas, and proposals in this space as things come into focus in the coming months.  Riverside commits to identifying a vision that balances our financial reality and need for future sustainability while safeguarding existing programs and ministries, the desires of our congregation, and the needs of our local community.  Change is hard, but change is necessary to create a vibrant future for everyone.