Commemorating 9/11 USA

Plans for Ground Zero Islamic centre stalled

Original proposals for a 15-storey building have been scaled back amid opposition

Protesters campaign against Park51 at Ground Zero

Plans have been shelved for the controversial $100m Islamic cultural centre in lower Manhattan, derisively known as the “Ground Zero mosque”. While organisers of the project, Park51, have vowed to create a space for cultural outreach and understanding in the area, as per their original mission, they are reassessing the ambition of their plans.

Park51 members originally proposed building a 15-storey structure on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory store two blocks from where the twin towers fell. The building’s façade was designed to resemble a honeycomb, inspired by Islamic screens; inside, an auditorium, swimming pool, gym, galleries and artists’ studios were planned. Now, the organisers are scaling back.

“Maybe [the community] doesn’t need all that space,” said Nour Mousa, one of Park51’s co-founders, who established the project in partnership with property developer Sharif El-Gamal in 2009. “We’re not going to build anything that’s not needed,” he said, though he added that an Islamic centre of some sort was necessary. Park51 currently occupies almost 55,000 sq. ft although the site is “not being fully utilised”, said Mousa. Rooms will remain half renovated until the centre’s organisers agree on the best way forward.

This will be largely dictated by the local community through a consultation process that could take up to three years, said Mousa.

Since its beginnings, the project has come under fire from opponents who believe that it would be disrespectful to victims of the 9/11 attacks to build a Muslim centre so close to Ground Zero. Park51 has received several failed injunctions to halt construction, which Mousa refers to as “white noise”.

To mollify detractors, El-Gamal said he would no longer have an imam serve as the centre’s public representative. Ac­cord­ing to Mousa, the building will probably remain open on 11 September, unless local officials advise otherwise. Nothing is planned for the anniversary, but visitors are invited to come in, pray and reflect.

In November 2010, Park51 applied for a federal grant reserved for the redevelopment of Manhattan to help fund Arabic and foreign language classes, programmes for veterans, immigration services and art exhibitions. It has held some private interfaith programmes and film screenings, and is open to members of the Muslim community for daily prayers. However, the centre has not had an official public opening: this is due to take place on 21 September with the exhibition “NYChildren”, featuring work by photographer Danny Goldfield.

Park51’s most vocal opponent, blogger Pamela Geller, who runs anti-Islamic website Atlas Shrugs, is planning a protest to coincide with the tenth anniversary.

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