Praying for a Temple

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A Taoist temple whose traditions date back to the 12th century, the only one of its kind in New York City, has hosted its final prayers.

As part of the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Project, Temple Ma Jou Miu, was evicted from its chapel at Second Avenue and 1st Street on March 15. The temple was one of the last tenants remaining in the cluster of buildings to be demolished or rehabbed to make way for the new residential and commercial complex.

“I built a community center here and it was literally thrown out on to the streets,” said Ma Jou Miu founder Sifu Jai as he sat on the sidewalk surrounded by his personal belongings.

In the summer of 2000, the city sold the temple's building and several nearby properties for $40.5 million to Chrystie Venture Partners, a partnership of Virginia-based developer AvalonBay Communities, retail developer Williams Jackson Ewing and Blackacre Capital, a private investment firm. The plan: to construct 618 apartments, about 25 percent of which will be for low-income tenants, and a shopping center. Phipps Houses, a local nonprofit developer, will own and manage the affordable apartments.

In an attempt to save his worshipping services and meditation and Kung Fu courses, which serve about 45 East Village residents, Jai has been in and out of Housing Court since 1990. It was then that the city first shut off the heat, plumbing and electricity in the building because the building manager, a group called Cuando, had not paid its bills. And it was only then, after spending four years in the space, that the temple found out about the city's plans for an urban renewal project.

So now, Jai and the temple members are looking for a new home. Community Board 3 has asked the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to help with relocation-even Lower East Side rock legend Patti Smith recently testified on the temple's behalf–and the board is considering urging the developer to include the temple in its final plans. Part of the chapel will be rebuilt for a cultural arts center, for which AvalonBay says it has yet to choose a tenant.

Meanwhile, Sifu Jai refuses to disassemble the ornate altars: “Anyone who chooses to do so, including city marshals,” he says,”will have to deal with the karmic consequences.”

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