Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The (British) Empire Strikes Back

On the edge of Wall Street lies a small church that seems like an oddity amongst the glass skyscrapers of wealth and power around it.

But make no mistake: Trinity Church is one of the wealthiest, most powerful institutions in all of NYC. It owns office buildings, historic properties, and several cemetaries where people like Alexander Hamilton, Ed Koch and even my own father are buried. It may say it's a church but it's really a real estate beomoth.

Since it's a church, it's assets and revenues are murky. Unless I'm mistaken, they don't pay any tax and there's little of the transparancy you get from a public comany. A recent lawsuit has, however, revealed that Trinity Church's real estate assests are currently valued at around $2 billion and it draws in revenues of almost $160 million a year. Faith has its rewards, apparently.

Here is what is most scandalous: even though this church is so wealthy, little of its wealth goes to the poor. In fact, almost none of it does. It spends millions of dollars of year in "communication" and six-figure salaries for its executives. This has caused some rifts amongst its congregants, who feel more of its money should be going to those in need. Needless to say (ha ha), their complaints are being dismissed.

Here is also what's most fascinating: do you know how Trinity Church got so wealthy? Thank Queen Anne. In 1705, when our city was still very much under the rule of the British, the queen gave this church almost 300 acres of land in lower Manhattan. Over the centuries, Trinity sold off most of the land and invested it in real estate. Pretty smart.

And a pretty good example of how the past and the present merge and how, more than two hundred years since we cast off the British empire, a vestige of the empire still lives in NYC.

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