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Mosque controversy offers teachable moment

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Mosque controversy offers teachable moment
Nour Moussa (C) of Soho Properties walks into his property at 45 Park Place, the site of the proposed Muslim Community Center and Mosque, two blocks from Ground Zero in New York on August 17, 2010. Moussa and others involved in the controversial project claim the community center is intended to help bridge the gap between Christians, Jews and Muslims with exhibition space and recreational facilities in addition to an area for Islamic prayer. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- President Obama's comments about a planned mosque in New York have placed a national spotlight on the controversial project, observers said.

Efforts to launch the $100 million Cordoba House -- now dubbed Park51 -- two blocks north of the World Trade Center site attacked Sept. 11, 2001, by terrorists has been an uphill battle from the start, with opponents saying it was disrespectful to the victims and survivors, and government officials and real estate insiders questioning whether it has a chance of coming to fruition, Politico reported Wednesday.

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The initiative hasn't begun fundraising for its $100 million goal and its 2008 fundraising report with the state attorney general's office -- the latest available -- indicates it has $18,255, officials said.

The group also lacks real estate essentials such as a blueprint, architect, lobbyist and engineer, and didn't do advance work to enlist religious leaders in New York who could have defended the project when the negative publicity began, observers told Politico.

In an interview with the Washington publication, the group's spokesman, Oz Sultan, said using foreign money to develop the site wouldn't be ruled out, but the project's goal was to use domestic funds.

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Observers say the project has accomplished one thing -- embarrassing the president, who put the issue on the national stage when he said the plan for the Islamic center was about religious freedom, not "the wisdom" of putting a mosque so close to Ground Zero.

New York real estate participants say Park51 offers a teachable moment on how not to handle development politics in a city where construction projects are difficult at best.

"They needed to talk to all the right people and they never did. That's a normal part of building any building in Manhattan," said George Arzt, a public relations specialist who was former New York Mayor Ed Koch's press secretary. "Normally what they would have done would be to get the architect, the PR, the government operation, community outreach all together in a team."

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