NPR via The Real Deal reports that Park 51, the planned Islamic Cultural Center that has aroused intense ire from many Lower Manhattanites due to its planned proximity to Ground Zero, continues to make quiet progress.
DeveloperÂ Sharif El-Gamal, CEO of Soho Properties, spoke to NPR about the projectâ€™s progress, which has remained out of the headlines in recent weeks. Gamal, who has invested several million into the project, said that the staff has compiled a presentation for potential investors and even applied for tax-exemption status last November.
Ground has yet to be broken but classes and prayer services are currently behind held in the existing structure. Gamal said that leaders of the project will now refrain from announcing possible imams or names of those involved in order to quell the public uproar; frequent announcements last Fall were often met with opposition from locals. Gamal did say that a new building for the center is still a good five years away from becoming a reality.
Additionally, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam first associated with the center, is not involved any longer.
Park51â€™s plans are rather extensive, as it looks to include a museum, a memorial for September 11th, a meeting place for people of all faiths, a library, an auditorium, a pool, wellness, fitness and sports centers, a culinary school, child care facilities and a restaurant above a ground-floor mosque.
NY1 reports that tour buses will now be expected to pay parking meters in Lower Manhattan, since the September 11th memorial is expected to attract around five million visitors annually. The influx of visitors will be brought downtown by charter buses, which lead to air pollution, noise pollution from idling vehicles and loads of traffic congestion! While tourists and visitors are encouraged to take mass transit to the region, there will still be lots and lots of buses converging on the area.
â€œThe real issue with the tour buses is one of pollution, itâ€™s one of traffic congestion, itâ€™s one affecting the residents and the small businesses down here,â€ said Julie Menin, chairwoman of Community Board 1.
Buses will be allowed to drop passengers off and pick them up at Trinity Place and Church Street bus stops during off-peak hours. The buses can wait at already existing bus layover zones or at newly created ones. Drivers will be expected to feed muni meters, which might cause bus fare to rise, as well. The price buses will have to pay has yet to be determined.
To minimize traffic overflow, 1,500 visitors will be allowed into the memorial per hour.
The new World Trade Center site is scheduled to open with a 9/11 memorial planned for September 11, 2011, which is the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks. The site will eventually have 673 officers assigned to patrol it and keep it safe.
The Washington PostÂ reports that New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly revealed the news on Tuesday when he spoke about the security needs for the 9/11 memorial and the new buildings that are slated to open after the fact. The full 673 officers wonâ€™t be in place until all the buildings on the site are completely erected. Kelly also acknowledged that the memorial and the site require special attention and even more security detail because they remain terrorist targets.
Do you think 673 offices is enough to keep the site safe?
The New York Times reports that there are some new issues surrounding the hot-button issues that is the planned “Ground Zero Mosque” AKA Park 51. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the mosque’s Imam, which is the prayer leader, will remain on the board of the Islamic Community Center and the mosque. But his role will be greatly reduced as a result; Abdul Rauf, who has gone on international and domestic speaking tours, will no longer raise funds for the project nor will he speak on its behalf.
Sharif el-Gamal, who is Abdul Rauf’s partner in the project and who owns the former coat store where the community center and mosque are planned, announced the split late last week. Â It appears that Abdul Rauf was not “Lower Manhattan” enough for the project. “While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Gamal in a statement. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”
However, other sources have indicated that Abdul Rauf and Gamal also have opposing opinions on the size, scope, commerciality and the interfaith nature of the planned center. They even refer to the project by different names; Abdul Rauf called it “The Cordoba House” while Gamal referred to it as “Park 51,” which is also how most New Yorkers recognize it.
What are your thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque/Park 51 in 2011?
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Tim Brown, a New York City firefighter who was a first responder to the September 11th attacks and ultimately survived the collapse of the Twin Towers, recently filed a lawsuit to stop the erection of the Ground Zero Mosque. As of Wednesday, the ACLJ requested that the court enjoin the mosque’s developers from performing any demolition or construction at the site.
The situation is a bit sticky, as the ACLJ claims that Mayor Bloombergâ€™s office is getting in the way of justice, in terms of reluctance to issue documents, and released a statement on the matter. “There is a disturbing pattern of stonewalling by the City and Mayor’s Office in providing information about what’s clearly been a politically tainted process from day one,” said Brett Joshpe, ACLJ Counsel. Â “The limited release of documents by the Mayor’s Office underscores our concerns. Â With developers moving forward with their plans and the continued lack of response by the City, we’re seeking an injunction from the court to halt the destruction of any of the buildings at issue in the case.”
The ACLJ’s lawsuit names New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the New York City Department of Buildings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the mosque’s developers. Â The suit also cites two complaints to the Department of Buildings noting unauthorized work without proper permits at the mosque site and the developers’ application for $5 million in public funding through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation as an indication that project is moving forward.
The ACLJ’s lawsuit alleges that the LPC abused its discretion and acted arbitrarily in its deliberations last summer about whether to landmark a building that was damaged on September 11th and which would need to be demolished to develop the Ground Zero Mosque.
The House and the Senate have passed a compromise bill for the first responders to the 9/11 attacks. The bill is on its way to President Obama to sign into law.
The $4.2 billion bill will provide medical benefits and compensation to the firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel that immediately responded to the victims of the attacks. The bill has been the subject of controversy among the two parties for a multitude of tax reasons and fear of waste, as well as a scientific conundrum in proving that 9/11 toxins were the actual cause of certain illnesses.
CNN reports that New York Senator Chuck Schumer said the passing of the bill was a “great day” for the nation, especially for first responders who suffer from a variety of physical ailments after breathing in the toxins that were present at Ground Zero and are therefore in need of medical attention due to their courageous and heroic actions to help others as the World Trade Center Twin Towers were collapsing.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Senate’s approval of the bill “affirms our nation’s commitment to protecting those who protect us all.â€
Do you think this bill being passed is a victory for the first responders?
In what is sure to frustrate those who gave their time and energy in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it appears that the $7.4 billion aid package designed to benefit workers who got sick from their efforts at Ground Zero is fading. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a tax-cut bill without the 9/11 legislation.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the those who supported the legislation, which would provide both health care and compensation to the people who fell ill after working at the World Trade Center Site after the 9/11 attacks, hoped to get it attached to the tax deal. But that did not happen.
Republicans apparently placed priority on the tax cut. Also, when the Senateâ€™s spending bill was revealed on Wednesday, the 9/11 legislation was conspicuously absent from the list. While the House already passed the measure, many politicos feel that the project is too costly and could become wasteful and/or fraudulent.
Those who were exposed to the dangerous dust and debris from the WTC site are currently receiving piecemeal, government-provided health monitoring. This particular legislation would turn the short-term, case-by-case care into a long-term program. President Obama is a supporter of the bill and has said he would sign it if passed.
The New York Times reports that third-generation Italian-American resident Joseph J. Grano, Jr., who was a financier of Jersey Boys, is hoping to develop a new Italian-American museum to serve as the main attraction at Pier A, the 124-year-old Victorian pier that lives at the northern edge of Battery Park City and is controlled by the Battery Park City Authority. The pier is currently under construction.
Granoâ€™s plans are grand – he hopes to position a Roman chariot and a Ferrari at the entrance to demonstrate artistic and technological progress. He also has plans for an exhibit that focuses on Italian artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, as well as composers like Puccini. Furthermore, Grano would like to construct an amphitheater for presentations for visiting students.
Grano also said he has potential investors willing to contribute funding for his proposal.
This $25 million proposal isnâ€™t the only one being considered by the Battery Park City Authority. The organization will make its choice among this and three other proposals sometime next year.
Would you visit an Italian-American museum at the pier?
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and leaders of St. Nicholas Church, a Greek Orthodox Church that has roots stemming back to 1916 and that was destroyed by falling debris after the Twin Towers were attacked, have begun legal action by filing a claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The leaders are demanding that the church be rebuilt under the terms of a deal that was worked out several years ago but that the PA has since reneged on.
The claim is hefty, as it accuses the PA, which oversees the rebuilding process at Ground Zero, of engaging in â€œarrogance, bad faith and fraudulent conduct,â€ as well as â€œshabby and unlawful treatment.â€
Initially, in 2008, the PA agreed to help rebuild the church, originally located on Cedar Street, in a new but nearby location on Liberty Street. The PA also agreed to contribute $20 million to the project. The deal fell through in March when the PA accused the church leaders of making excessive demands; the church countered that the organization backed out of the deal.
The churchâ€™s claim also references several civil rights and constitutional violations, accusing the PA of interfering with its right to freely practice religion and of defaming the church, as well. The church seeks to compel the PA to follow through on their binding preliminary agreement. “Filing a lawsuit is not something that we really want to do,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, a spokesman for the church. “We have come to this point because we have been ignored and bullied.”
In addition to the Port Authority, the claim also names the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. as a potential defendant.
Should the Port Authority be beholden to the old terms? Does the church’s suit sound like it has merit?
DNA Info reports that the Battery Park City Authority is reviewing its internal audit process thanks to a report that indicated over $300,000 in funds had been misappropriated on extravagances such as parties, lunches and chauffeurs. The BPCA earns profits in the tens of millions of dollars per year while managing debt that numbers around $1 billion.
Internal auditors Roy Villafane, who has since retired, and the still-employed Lisa Miller were criticized in a state Inspector General report for their sloppy bookkeeping; for example, they did not document a car and driver service utilized by former BPCA chairman James Gill.
An Audit Committee meeting was held on Wednesday, which was the first since the report was released, to discuss the matter. Miller is temporarily filling the auditor role but other board members agreed a dedicated auditor is necessary to ensure a smoother work flow and management of funds. A new policy is being formulated, with the possibility of an external company being brought on to conduct the audits.
The next Audit Committee meeting is slated for January.
What should the BPCA do to rectify the problem with their audit function?