Park51 Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Opens Without Protests
The Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site opened its doors on Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2011 for a photography exhibit entitled NYChildren. The opening of Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” attracted no protests, but drew crowds that came to view portraits of New York City children with roots in 169 countries. The exhibit is housed in a first-floor space that serves as a temporary center until an entirely new building can be built.
On June 6, 2010, the first large protest over the Muslim community center drew a crowd of over 1,000. By August 2010, numerous politicians addressed whether or not it was appropriate to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, President Barack Obama, and US Rep Jerold Nadler (D-NY) supported the right to build the Islamic center, while former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, US Rep. Peter King (R-NY), and former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean opposed the Islamic center.
The center’s developer Sharif El-Gamal used the exhibit’s opening, which coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, to address the controversy that erupted in the summer of 2010. “We made incredible mistakes,” he told the Associated Press. “The biggest mistake we made was not to include 9/11 families. We didn’t understand that we had a responsibility to discuss our private project with family members that lost loved ones.”
Opponents of Park51 find the choice of location insensitive, pointing out that human remains from 9/11 were found 348 feet from the mosque. Proponents of the Islamic center argue that there is already a mosque nearby, as well as an off-track betting facility and at least two strip clubs.
The opening of the photography exhibit serves as a reminder that Park51 is moving forward despite rumors that it was put on hold. Park 51’s chief of staff Katerina Lucas said, “We have broken some ground, but there are still many hurdles.’ One major hurdle is raising the $7 to $10 million needed to complete the project. Park51 supporters argue that the completed 15-story Muslim community center will be an asset to the neighborhood and local economy, housing an auditorium, educational programs, a pool, a restaurant and culinary school, child care services, a sports facility, a wellness center and artist studios.