NEW YORK — A real estate developer in New York City has filed an application to demolish Park 51, or what has become known as the ‘Ground Zero mosque.’ However, reports state that the developer may simply have plans to build a larger facility in its place.
The New York Department of Buildings told Reuters this week that it was reviewing an application from the developer to tear down the building and an adjacent property. The application was filed by Soho Properties, operated by Sharif El-Gamal, who owns three surrounding properties.
Park 51 became the subject of controversy in 2010 when it announced plans to open a 4,000-square foot Islamic center in the former Burlington Coat Factory building. Both protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside of the building to express their views about the matter, as the facility is located just two blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“It’s very insensitive to the families,” retired firefighter Tim Brown, who escaped the Twin Towers, told the New York Daily News. “This is not about religious freedom. … All we are saying is don’t build this mosque here at Ground Zero on our cemetery.”
But others asserted that Muslims had a right to use the building as an Islamic community center because they have the same freedoms all Americans have.
“These people against it need to open their eyes and see how much hate this is bringing,” tour guide Victor Hernandez told the publication. “The terrorists win when we don’t allow people their freedoms.”
Soho Properties described the facility prior to its opening as “a platform for multi-faith dialogue. It will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally.”
The five-story building opened for use in 2011, but reports stated that Soho Properties had plans to eventually construct a $100 million, 13-story Islamic community center. As the company recently applied for to demolish the facility, there is speculation that El-Gamal might be working toward his goal of creating a new, larger facility. Spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf told the Commercial Observer, “Plans for the site will be announced at a later date.”
Pamela Geller of the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America wrote in a blog post about the matter that she was watching the development, but also wondered where El-Gamal was obtaining funding for the project.
“Where is he getting the money?” she asked. “The man defaulted on not one, but two bank loans. He failed to pay rent to Con Ed, part owner of one of the buildings. They sued him and won. And Gamal failed to pay the taxes owed on the building.”
“On top of all this, he was evicted from his Soho Properties offices for failure to pay rent,” Geller continued. “And yet he bought the two buildings that flank the proposed Ground Zero site. Where is he getting the money?”