By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Downtown residents aren’t ready to give up the Park51 mosque and community center, which Saudi billionaire King Abdullah reportedly wants to move up to Greenwich Village.
Several downtown residents said Monday that they are looking forward to Park51 bringing a pool, gym, theater and other amenities to the planned location on Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center.
"We don't want to lose it," said Bill Love, a member of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee. "It would be great for the neighborhood."
King Abdullah reportedly wants to put the center in the shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital campus, which he would reopen. Park51’s backers have denied that any such deal is in the works.
If the center moved, Ameena Meer, 46, a longtime TriBeCa resident and member of Park51 sponsor Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s congregation, said it would be a loss for the neighborhood below Canal Street.
"Every time I walk down the street, residents ask when it’s happening," said Meer, who also does social media and branding work for Park51. "Even if it’s just simple recreational services, we’re desperate for those."
Meer added that most of the mosque’s congregation lives or works below Canal Street, and moving the center up to the Village would make it harder for people to attend the Friday lunchtime services, which draw up to 1,000 people.
Meer said no one at Park51 had heard about King Abdullah’s reported proposal to move the center.
Just as many downtown residents would be sad to see the center go, some Village residents would welcome it with open arms, especially if it means reviving St. Vincent’s.
"If someone wants to come in and build a mosque and a state-of-the-art hospital, I would welcome that in this community," said Jesse Campoamor, a Community Board 4 member.
Campoamor, who is also on the steering committee of the Lower West Side Health Needs Assessment, said no one had approached the group about the move and "we’re trying to get all the facts straight."
St. Vincent’s Hospital is about 2 miles north of the World Trade Center, which is far enough away to satisfy at least some of the 9/11 family members who objected to the original site.
"It would be a win-win for everyone involved," said Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son was killed on 9/11 and who has strongly opposed Park51. "The pain and grief 9/11 families are enduring would be eliminated…. I am hoping and praying."
Manhattan lawyer Dudley Gaffin, who is reportedly looking into the St. Vincent’s move on behalf of King Abdullah, did not return a call for comment.
With reporting by Gabriela Resto-Montero