The Land-Lord Almighty: Trinity Church’s path to a $6B real estate empire

Over the course of 3 centuries, Trinity Church in Manhattan has amassed a $6B real estate empire.


February 11, 2019

Trinity Church, an Episcopal-affiliate in Manhattan that was chartered in 1697, has amassed a $6B real estate development empire, according to a recent report from The New York Times.

Since religious institutions in the US get tax breaks, many churches across the country own lots of land. But few churches have developed it as well as Trinity, which rents out commercial space to massive corporations (last year, it signed a $650m deal with Disney).

Royalty, religion… and real estate

Trinity traces its profitable property portfolio back to 1705, when Queen Anne of England donated a plot of 215 acres of Manhattan ground to the church.

The church held on to its land through the years: In the 19th century, Trinity was the 2nd-largest landowner in the city, home to several (148) notoriously filthy and dangerous tenements

By 2013, Trinity’s land dwindled to just 14 acres, but had appreciated to $2B in value, which gave the church a new lease on its development efforts.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t pay taxes

In less than 6 years, Trinity tripled the value of its real estate empire by entering a joint development venture. 

Today, Trinity’s real estate company runs an interactive website to show off its valuable Hudson Square properties. But there’s another reason Trinity does so well: It doesn’t pay taxes.

Tax breaks are a good deal for churches: They’ve helped the Catholic Church become the largest non-government landowner in the world and the Mormon Church become the largest landowner in Florida.

The devil’s in the developments

Despite Trinity’s success, God doesn’t always make a great real estate developer: Across the country, churches with declining congregations are struggling to keep the lights on. 

The difference between Trinity and other churches is that it chose to play an active role as a real estate developer — instead of just sitting on the value of its untaxed land.

But Trinity has money to spare: For the past several years, it has donated $10m annually to other (struggling) churches.

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