The sales gallery for 45 Park Place, a 43-story condominium that will soon rise three blocks from the World Trade Center, is not unlike the galleries for other luxury condos in New York. Oversize photographs showcase the spectacular views that come with living in a 665-foot tower. The mock kitchen and bathroom offer a glimpse of the refined finishes one would expect in a building with a $41 million duplex penthouse.
But unlike other New York City condos, this one is something of a consolation prize for the developer, and one that is opening in a cooling luxury market. The tower replaces the developer’s 2010 plan to build a 15-story Islamic mosque and cultural center on this site, an idea that erupted into a national controversy and cable news network bonanza.
The mosque’s opponents — among them some families of 9/11 victims, politicians and conservative media pundits — balked at the notion of a mosque so close to the site of the largest attack by Islamic terrorists in the nation’s history. Critics called it the Ground Zero Mosque, the Victory Mosque and a “megamosque.”
Its name was Park51, and the project’s developer, Sharif El-Gamal, the founder of Soho Properties, compared it to the 92nd Street Y, a community gathering space where New Yorkers could go for swimming lessons and lectures.
But by 2011, Mr. El-Gamal bowed to public pressure, little of it local, and abandoned the idea for the cultural center.
The new design replaces Mr. El-Gamal’s vision of a vast space for public gatherings with more standard New York City fare: a very expensive glass and steel tower for the very rich. The site, which extends from 43 to 51 Park Place, will open in 2019 with 50 apartments at 45 Park Place and a much smaller, three-story Islamic museum and public plaza, designed by Jean Nouvel, but no mosque, at 49-51 Park Place.
Gone is the name Park51, although a new name for the museum has not been announced. Mr. El-Gamal’s critics have been largely silent since 2011, even though prayers, events and gatherings continued to be held regularly at 49-51 Park Place until the property closed for demolition in 2015.
Describing the controversy as “a fabricated issue,” Mr. El-Gamal, who received death threats at the time, insisted that the scaled-down museum would still achieve his original objective. “We are still building an Islamic museum and sanctuary,” he said.
For his opponents, even a small center is too much. An Islamic museum “is just as much of an insult,” Pamela Geller, a blogger and one of the center’s most vocal opponents, wrote in an email. “It will be like having a museum touting the glories of the Japanese Empire at Pearl Harbor.”
Mr. El-Gamal is undeterred by the outrage his idea stirred. Instead, he believes Americans have become more tolerant, not less, of religious freedom, pointing to the protests that sprang up opposing President Trump’s travel ban targeting visitors and immigrants from Muslim nations.
As for a vast Islamic cultural center, “I didn’t give up on the original vision,” he said. “I might do it somewhere else” in New York.
Of course there will be a mosque there – they’re just calling it by a different name for now. That’s why neither the so-called Islamic museum and “sanctuary” aren’t even mentioned on the condo’s sales website (linked above).
Pamela Geller provides her full comment via Condo tower with Islamic museum and mosque to rise at proposed Ground Zero Mosque site:
This is what I actually told the New York Times:
“The 16-story mosque that El-Gamal initially planned to build there has not been built. Our efforts in showing what an insult it was to the American people and to the victims of 9/11, and how many Muslims worldwide would inevitably view it as a triumphal mosque built on the site of a jihad attack, defeated it. Now El-Gamal plans an Islamic Museum, which is just as much of an insult; it will be like having a Museum touting the glories of the Japanese Empire at Pearl Harbor. A genuine Islamic Museum that detailed the 1,400-year history of jihad warfare, cultural annihilation, land appropriation and enslavement would be appropriate at that location, but El-Gamal’s museum is certain to be a whitewash of the doctrine and history of jihad and a paean to imaginary Muslim contributions to various important inventions and achievements.”