Jan Hus buys soccer shop

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church is buying the longtime Home of Soccer Building on First Avenue and vacating its home on East 74th Street. Photo: Jim Nedelka / Jan Hus
A fabled Yorkville church, forced to sell its ancestral home to remain solvent, uses the proceeds to secure new quarters for its congregation and social-justice mission

After 131 years of worship on East 74th Street, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church is purchasing a building 16 blocks to the north and will move into the new space by the spring of 2020, Our Town has learned.

The neighborhood stalwart that once anchored “Little Bohemia” — and provided a spiritual base for legions of Czech parishioners — is buying the Home of Soccer Building on First Avenue just above East 90th Street.

It plans to convert the four-story commercial property into a multi-use, ADA-accessible, social-justice jewel box that will minister to the flock — while also tending to the elderly, hungry, homeless and impoverished.

A sanctuary for prayer will grace the ground floor, and one level below, the church’s Urban Outreach Center will offer one-stop, social services, like the first supermarket-style food pantry on the Upper East Side.

Plans aren’t finalized, but among the options Jan Hus is considering for the space is a church-based, pre-school in an area where overcrowding is rife and demand for local school seats far outstrips capacity.

Also on tap for the second, third and fourth floors: A retreat center, an incubator space for a social justice-oriented nonprofit, and even a café-like setting for 12-step recovery programs, of which the church hosts 54.

“We need to do what’s right for the most marginalized people in New York City,” said the Rev. Beverly Dempsey, who has been senior pastor at Jan Hus since 2014.

The move caps a complex real estate transaction involving two faith-based organizations and a third nonprofit, all of whom opted to stay and grow on the Upper East Side by buying three separate buildings.

In the first wave of the deals, which was first reported by Our Town last December, the Church of the Epiphany sold its property on York Ave. at 74th Street to Weill Cornell Medicine, which expects to build a residence hall for graduate and medical school students on the site.

Epiphany pocketed a $68 million bonanza from the sale, enabling it to turn around and simultaneously purchase the 1888 home of Jan Hus, which sits one block to the west, at 351 East 74th St. between First and Second Avenues.

Jan Hus, in turn, reaped $22.6 million from the sale in a transaction that closed on Feb. 20.

It needed the cash:

Ongoing maintenance of the red brick, rock-faced brownstone church, with its Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival façade, has been a financial drain, and Jan Hus has faced multi-year operating deficits with a limited number of members, benefactors and grant providers.

Right-Sizing at the Altar

It isn’t alone. Stewards of several other UES religious institutions in the 60s, 70s, 70s and 90s — faced with soaring bills to heat, maintain and upgrade vast legacy buildings — have been forced to shrink their footprints and monetize their real estate to stay fiscally afloat.

Indeed, Jan Hus is moving from the 23,000 square feet it now occupies to a 15,000 square-foot replacement property, decreasing its space inventory by 34.8 percent.

The new home is better suited to its current needs, mission and budget, the church says.

“Too many congregations hold on to their older, deteriorating buildings until their finances can no longer support them,” Dempsey said.

“We sold our property so we can live into the future,” she added. “Relocating to 1745 First Avenue will enable us to continue to serve thousands of vulnerable people each year for generations to come with a more robust ministry than ever before.”

The church is paying less than the initial asking price, which was $13.5 million. The exact amount wasn’t immediately clear. Since it sold its old home for $9.1 million more than that offering price, it will have a large cushion both to create an endowment and fund extensive renovations.

Still, the road to the purchase was rocky. Cost estimates to upgrade the elevator and mechanicals — and make the property, which itself dates to 1883, ADA accessible — were far steeper than initially anticipated.

Fortunately, Dempsey said, Hermann Doss, whose family founded the Home of Soccer in 1933 and has owned the sports supply company ever since, was sympathetic. “He was very gracious and flexible in price to accommodate the community,” she added.

The bottom line: A contract of sale could be executed as early as March 13. A closing is planned for May 20. After roughly a year to renovate all four floors of its new home, Jan Hus hopes for a ribbon-cutting in the spring of 2020.

Under the terms of its deal with Epiphany, the church has to vacate its 74th Street space by July 15. And in the interim between move-out and move-in, “The worshipping community will be in diaspora,” Dempsey said.

The different parts of its ministry will occupy swing spaces in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and Church of the Living Hope in East Harlem, before finally reuniting under one roof at the Home of Soccer.

Elected officials were elated that Jan Hus will continue to provide vital homeless-outreach services on the UES:

“’Give me your tired, your poor,’” quoted City Council Member Ben Kallos. “’Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.’ You are welcomed here on the Upper East Side, where we will feed you, clothe you and help you.”

State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright went back even further in time. “There is a 1773 poem by William Cowper which begins with the line, ‘God moves in a mysterious way,’” she said.

“In this spirit, it is possible that the physical move north may well provide new opportunities for more people to become familiar with the congregation, and its good works, even as it continues to serve its loyal parishioners,” Seawright added.