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.
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.
Despite their efforts to educate Lower Manhattan dwellers about their plans for the Islamic community center and mosque that will be situated just two blocks from Ground Zero, Park51 developers applied for nearly $5 million in federal grants, according toÂ The Daily Beast. The government set aside $20 billion in funds under a “community and cultural enhancement grant” program overseen by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation with the specific purpose of redeveloping lower Manhattan after the Twin Towers collapsed nearly a decade ago. Given the divided nature of New Yorkers regarding Park51, the fact that the developers filed for funding that they may or not need is expected to incite the ire of on-the-fence locals.
While the LMDC board and Park 51 officials refused to comment on the application due to confidentiality issues, Park 51, which is aiming to provide a community center for Lower Manhattan’s Muslims population, are well within their rights to apply for the grant, as the application stats that religious groups are permitted to make requests as long as they submit “for a facility or portion of a facility that is dedicated to non-religious activities or uses.” A source familiar with the application claims that Park 51 omitted the prayer room from their request.
Park51 maintains that its overarching goal is the “change the conversation about Muslims in America,” but sources speculate that while most Lower Manhattanites are okay with the community center being located in their backyard and a community board approved Park51 in two separate votes,Â Â the request for public funds to develop a private property could anger residents.Â Â Other sources indicate that Park51 doesn’t meet the funding requirements.
What do you think of Park51 requesting federal funding?
Manhattanites are divided over Park51, the planned community center funded by Muslims that will feature a Muslim prayer space referred to as â€œThe Ground Zero Mosque,â€ being erected so close to former World Trade Center site. However, Park51 is offering a series of public information sessions over the next few months to educate both supporters and critics. According to Park51â€™s John Lichten, the weekly Q&A sessions will take place on Wednesdays, beginning this evening, and will run through December. Park51 developer Sharif El-Gamal will attend with the aim of describing the project and to answer probing, poignant questions.
Sessions will be limited to a dozen participants per week, so interested parties should email firstname.lastname@example.org in advance of their preferred attendance date. The sessions are not open to the media.
According to DNA Info, Lichten stated that â€œvery early on, there were a number of misconceptions about what we were doing. Weâ€™ve been trying to clear them up [and] we want to get what weâ€™re doing out there to the people who need to hear it the most.”
Do you think these sessions will truly help concerned New Yorkers understand Park51â€™s goals?
Terry Jones, the Pastor from Florida who threatend to burn the Koran during the height of the Ground Zero MosqueÂ controversy, paid a visit to Ground Zero today and held a press conference. As reported by the New York Post, the press conference took place at Park 51, “to bring awareness to his new organization Stand Up America and how radical Islam needs to be combated.”Â His organization hopes to go before the UN to “adopt normal human rightsâ€ in the Middle East.
When the New York Post asked Pastor Terry JonesÂ if his visit at the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha was of significance, Â he replied that he didn’t know of any such holiday, adding, â€œOur methods are not meant to offend.”
Do you think the visit by Pastor Terry Jones to Ground Zero was offensive?
Hisham Elzanaty, the developer and single largest investor in the Park51 Islamic community center vows to move forward with developing a mosque near Ground Zero.
Elzanaty has received national attention in previous weeks after receiving two offers to buy out his stakes in the development from both Donald Trump and the World Chess Federation.
Having spoken only through his attorney, Elzanaty has broke his silence admitting that the mosque was indeed his idea and that he “felt it was a great place for people to pray” and that he “didn’t expect this commotion, this hate, this anger,” according a report from the Daily News.
According to the same article, Elzanaty’s parents were victims of the EgyptAir crash in 1999 and could relate to the plights of 9/11 families having been personally affected by a terrorist attack. “I am one of them. I lived this two years before they did. I will never do anything to harm America.”
Fox 5 News in New York did an exclusive interview with Elzanaty below:
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is calling for the relocation of the controversial Park51 mosque.
Silver, who agrees that the Constitution protects the rights of the developers who want to build the community center and mosque, also feels they should be as interested in compassion for 9/11 victim families
“They should find a suitable place that won’t cause the same controversy,” Silver stated at a press conference with Gov. Paterson.
The Governor also offered his help in relocating the Park51 development. Discussions between the developers and the Governor have not materialized.
Silver’s call for reconsideration came right before the Governor was set to speak with Archbishop Timothy Dolan to discuss Park51 and how to facilitate moving the controversial development.
Park51 and the Cordoba Initiative have stated clearly their resolve in staying at 45-51 Park Place, and show no signs of relocating their community center. Daisy Kahn, one of the founders and wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, had stated that the relocation matter was “a bigger fight.”
It has been extremely challenging to cover the deluge of news surrounding our neighborhood in the past few months.
When we started this site, we intended for it to be a community-building place online: a place where we could discuss with pride the rebuilding of the new World Trade Center and the metamorphosis it will surely bring to our area.
However, we could not have anticipated the national response towards the development of the Park51 mosque, a development connected — in ways other than geography — to the greater rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. Issues of ‘fundamental rights’ and ‘racism’ have sprung up, and our readers (and the nation as a whole) remain divided.
Ideological debates aside, some troubling events from this weekend leave us with another important question:Â How can we be protected and made safe from opponents targeting the mosque in our area?
In the video above (shared with us via Facebook), protesters lambast a person they wrongly believe is a Muslim.
How will the environment and political tension surrounding the mosque change our neighborhood’s safety?Â Sure, we don’t live on Ground Zero, but this is an area where we walk for our groceries, for our subways and in September, this is the route some of us take to bring our children to school.
I’m not sure if all in the community share the same concerns as some. If the plans for Park51 go through — and they are as iconic as the developers plan — will this mean we as a community should start to get used to constant protests? If so, how long will they last? Who will help to protect residents of Lower Manhattan from the national scrutiny?
These are questions I feel are not being asked enough. I hope that someone out there is concerned not with the political, or the religious, but the safety ramifications this might cause our community.