The Trinity of Sales

The Trinity of Sales August 17, 2020

It all started in 2005. The old Norman Gothic-style building on the corner of York Avenue and East 74th Street was home to The Church of the Epiphany—a New York-based Episcopal church whose leadership wanted to build a more modern and inspiring place of worship. Jon Epstein, Avison Young Principal, was retained to sell the site to a residential developer that would be willing to partner with Epiphany and build a new home for the church at the base of the building. Although he successfully negotiated a sale, the deal fell through at the hands of the 2008 financial crisis.

Around the same time in 2005, Jennifer Ogden attended a Junior League of Montclair/Newark function, where she met a young woman named Beverly Dempsey. The two became fast friends, and, even after Beverly moved to another town, they stayed in contact. Many years later, Jennifer would become Senior Director at Avison Young New York, and Beverly would attend divinity school, eventually becoming the Senior Pastor and Executive Director at Jan Hus—a 130+ year-old Presbyterian church located in a Romanesque and Gothic-revival style building at 351 East 74th Street.

These two disconnected, seemingly unrelated situations would form a confluence thirteen years later.

In February of 2018, Beverly sent a Facebook message to Jennifer. She was looking to discuss the possibility of selling the 19th century Jan Hus building in favor of downsizing to a smaller space, while collecting the proceeds needed to better serve the church’s constituents through outreach programs, as well as to create an endowment to fund future community work. 

On the same day that Jennifer received the message from Beverly, it was announced that James Nelson would be joining Avison Young as the head of Tri-State Investment Sales. Jennifer saw James’ announcement as prophetic, and a meeting with Beverly was scheduled on James’ first day. Beverly was so impressed with James’ pitch and subsequent BOV that she signed an exclusive with Avison Young to sell the church, and the search for a new lease site on the Upper East Side began.

“Jan Hus’ sale of 351 East 74th Street and purchase of 1745 First Avenue exemplify how non-profits are taking advantage of the real estate market,” Susan Kahaner, AY Senior Director, notes, “by monetizing assets that no longer serve their needs and moving to more efficient spaces in the same neighborhood.”

As word of the Jan Hus property’s availability made its way around the Avison Young NY office, Jon Epstein caught wind and immediately thought of the Church of the Epiphany—his long-time client whose deal fell through over a decade before. It wasn’t long after that Jon presented the opportunity to Epiphany’s rector and vestry leadership members, who responded to the idea with incredible enthusiasm. Not only would the deal meet their original needs for a more efficient space; the Jan Hus building was only a block away, and the move wouldn’t disrupt the church’s congregation, its school, or community services.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Church of the Epiphany,” Jon explains. “The Church had been examining ways to ensure its long-term sustainability and hoped to expand and enhance its ministry to better reflect the needs of the congregation. By selling the property at 1393 York Avenue, the Church was not only able to create an endowment to fulfill its mission; it can also remain in the neighborhood and expand its work by purchasing the East 74th Street property just one block away.”

However, Epiphany was still faced with the challenge of funding. They needed to find a buyer before they could secure the funds necessary to purchase the Jan Hus church, renovate it, and have money left over for its endowment.

Jon once again stepped up to sell the property. Very soon after reaching out to local developers, he was contacted by a trustee of Weill Cornell Medical College—a prestigious graduate school of Cornell University, founded in 1898. Jon had worked with Weill Cornell in the past and had even pitched them for Epiphany back in 2005. However, now the timing was right, and Weill Cornell quickly jumped on board with plans to renovate the property into student housing.

While the story spans thirteen years, the three-way deal was concluded in a matter of months, with all three historic nonprofits benefitting from their mutual desire to remain a solid cornerstone of service for their community on the Upper East Side. The deal is a testament to the creativity and dedication required of the commercial broker, and an example of how the commercial real estate industry can lead to the overarching betterment of our communities.

“The collaborative culture at Avison Young allowed us to complete a complex, multi-tiered, three-party sale and acquisition, merging all of our objectives into a seamless and successful transaction,” explains Beverly Dempsey. “A lot of emotion, hard work, and perhaps a few miracles helped us through the process, and we are thrilled to be building the perfect new home for Jan Hus!”

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) honored Jon Epstein, James Nelson, Susan Kahaner and Jennifer Ogden with its prestigious Edward S. Gordon Memorial Award for this transaction “The Trinity of Sales: How Three Charities Coordinated Sales for the Benefit of New York” at 1393 York Avenue, 351 East 74th Street and 1745 First Avenue. More information can be found here.