Mosque Near Ground Zero Still Faces Long Road Ahead
By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Missing from the vitriolic debate over the World Trade Center mosque this week was the fact that it will not rise anytime soon.
The $100 million, 13-story Cordoba House faces several major hurdles, including fundraising and landmarks approval. Even if everything falls into place, the mosque and community center likely won’t open until at least 2014.
Despite the lack of immediacy, Community Board 1’s discussion of the Cordoba House Tuesday night turned into an emotional free-for-all, with politicians, downtown residents and 9/11 family members shouting over each other. The community board ultimately voted to support the project, echoing the local politicians who have done the same.
But all of that support does not change the fact that the Cordoba Initiative, the group behind the center, has not yet started raising the $100 million it needs.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the initiative’s spiritual leader, said Tuesday he would look to donors both in America and from Muslim communities around the world to raise the money.
Another obstacle is the potential landmarking of 45-47 Park Place, the former Burlington Coat Factory building, which Rauf hopes to tear down to build the Cordoba House.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on landmarking the 152-year-old building back in 1989 but never made a final decision. Even after all these years, the building is still “calendered,” which leaves its future in limbo.
The LPC will hold a hearing as soon as July to decide whether to landmark the building or remove it from consideration, said Lisi de Bourbon, LPC spokeswoman.
One local preservationist leader told DNAinfo that the preservation community did not want to wade into the controversy surrounding Cordoba House and therefore would not fight to save 45 Park Place.
If the Cordoba Initiative wants to demolish the building before LPC makes a decision, then the Dept. of Buildings will notify LPC of the initiative’s intentions. LPC would then have 40 days to landmark the building, otherwise the Cordoba Initiative would be allowed to demolish it, de Bourbon said.
On Tuesday night, Community Board 1’s 50 members took up the issue of the Cordoba House after listening to about three hours of public comments.
The resolution that the board ultimately passed supported the community center aspect of the project but did not take a position on the religious aspect. The board’s opinion is advisory.
Julie Menin, chairwoman of the board, voted for the Cordoba House and said it was important for the community to have a voice in the plans as they went forward. It would be difficult to have that input, she said, if the board did not support the concept.
Still, some members said the board should not weigh in on religious institutions and pushed to postpone the vote. Several TriBeCa and Southbridge Towers residents said they wanted more time to understand the concerns raised by those who opposed the mosque, who questioned Rauf’s background.
“We should do more research, find out who these folks really are,” said Marc Ameruso, a board member.
But Mark Costello, another board member, said he had spoken to his former colleagues at the Dept. of Justice about the Cordoba Initiative and they assured him that the organization had no fundamentalist connections.
“If this group isn’t OK with us, no Muslim group could ever be OK with us,” Costello said.
The final vote was 29 in favor, 1 against and 10 abstaining, with the abstentions counting as “no” votes.