Park51’s Ground Zero Mosque project has been struck with three more blows over the past two weeks. First, it is being threatened with eviction from part of its property. Then, developer Sharif el-Gamal was caught giving faulty receipts to reporters. And just now, it’s been exposed that al-Gamal is in violation of a court order and owes New York City tens of thousands of dollars. Victory can’t be declared yet, but this has been a very bad couple of months for Park51.
Part of the land slated to become the Ground Zero Mosque is a former substation owned by Con Ed, which Park51 is leasing. The two parties agreed to have the property appraised and rent raised, since the $2,750 Park51 was paying was set in 1972. The property was appraised at $10.7 million, so Con Ed raised the rent to $47,437 a month, requiring retroactive payment back to July 31, 2008. Con Ed told Park51 it must pay $1.7 million in back rent by October 4 or face eviction.
Park51 sued to temporarily prevent the eviction and a hearing is set for November 17. Park51 says Con Ed’s demands are “outrageous,” and it only owes $881,519 and the rent should only be $25,875 a month. If Park51 is ordered to pay the rent or surrender the property, the Ground Zero Mosque will be limited to the 5 stories that el-Gamal owns. He is already preparing for such an eventuality, saying that some of the property might be turned into condos, hotels or offices. The Ground Zero Mosque will still be built, but will be a shadow of what he wanted it to be.