A group, called the Cordoba Initiative, is seeking to make major structural changes to a five-story building at 45 Park Place, in Manhattan, which was built in the late 1850s in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style. That address is very near Ground Zero.
After a raucous hearing, a Manhattan community board backed the proposal to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center.
The proposed center, called the Cordoba House, could rise as much as 15 stories and is just two blocks north of where the twin towers stood. It would include a prayer space, as well as a 500-seat performing arts center, a culinary school, a swimming pool, a restaurant and other amenities.
The vote (29-to-1 with 10 abstentions), followed a heated debate between those who said the community center would be a monument to tolerance and those who believed it would be an affront to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The board’s vote is just advisory as it does not have the power to approve or disapprove plans for a center, but it was seen as an indication of community sentiment.
Among the more than 100 people who testified at the hearing were Middle school students and rabbis. Some carried pictures of family members killed in the attacks; others had signs reading “Show respect for 9/11. No mosque!”
C. Lee Hanson, 77, whose son Peter was killed in the attacks, said he opposed the center not because he was intolerant, but because he believed that building a tribute to Islam so close to the World Trade Center would be insensitive. “The pain never goes away,” Mr. Hanson said. “When I look over there and I see a mosque, it’s going to hurt. Build it someplace else.”
Remarks about Muslims from a leader of the Tea Party, Mark Williams, in the days leading up to the vote were widely dismissed as racist. Mr. Williams was not the only critic. Many families of Sept. 11 victims fervently opposed the proposal, saying they were offended by the idea of building a prayer space so near the site.
“That should be a serene site,” Bill Doyle, a leader of a group of 9/11 families, said in a telephone interview. “Now you’re going to see protests and demonstrations there all the time.”
On the other side of the issue, Jean Grillo, 65, a writer from TriBeCa, said shutting out any faith undermined American values. “What better place to teach tolerance than at the very area where hate tried to kill tolerance?” she said.
City officials, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn; and the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, have rallied behind the proposal.
The center is estimated to cost $100 million, but exactly how the Cordoba Initiative will finance the project remains unclear.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has led services in TriBeCa since 1983, told the board the center would help “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other religious groups. “We have condemned the actions of 9/11,” he said. “We have condemned terrorism in the most unequivocal terms.”
The issue to me seems to be one of sensitivity. No one is saying that the Muslim Community does not have the right to build the center at that location. Indeed, the law is clearly on their side. The problem is the perception of insult that the presence of a Muslim Cultural Center at the site of that horrific attack represents. I would think that if the Muslim Community truly wants to “bridge and heal a divide” as they say, they would simply move their project a few blocks further away and demonstrate their understanding and support for the feelings of the victims, especially of those whose suffered so badly as a result of that attack.
On This Day in History:
1850 President Zachery Taylor dies in White House
1816 Argentina declares independence from Spain
1955 1st black executive hired on White House staff
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