Park 51 Battles Possible Eviction

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Popularly known as the “ground zero mosque,” the Park 51 Community Center faces eviction from their landlord, Con Edison, as they struggle to pay their bills.

Park 51 is located three blocks away from ground zero. Sharif El-Gamal, the founder and developer, announced the project in 2010, causing a debate amongst Americans whether they want a mosque near ground zero or not. Many Americans rose angrily against the construction of the mosque, protesting its construction. They argued that the mosque would be an attack on the memories of those who died on Sept 11.

Park 51 has modeled itself after the Jewish Community Center located on the Upper West Side, which offers summer camps, arts and crafts and a health club for the neighborhood. Park 51 currently features a Muslim prayer space and a photographic exhibited titled NYChildren, which features children from all around the world living in New York City.

According to Park 51’s mission statement, it is a place that will reflect the diversity of the city and serve New York City with programs in education arts, culture and recreation. The center opened officially on Sept 21.

“Only time will tell whether this will succeed,” Harry Ochasingh, a security guard at Park 51, said.

The present location is run down and old, but El-Gamal plans to raise the money needed to renovate the building. The new building will feature an enhanced prayer space, restaurant, a holistic culinary school, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a library and a museum.

In November, it became evident that El-Gamal and Park 51 don’t have the money to pay their bills. From Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, Con Edison cut off electricity to the community center. The center reopened on Dec. 2 after power was restored.

According to Con Edison, Park 51 owes $1.7 million in rent. Con Edison owns 51 Park Place, one of the buildings that make up the complex. In 2010, appraisers Jerome Haims (representing Park 51) and Robert Von Ancken (representing Con Ed) were elected to calculate the value of the premises. They failed to agree on an appraisal, which led to the involvement of a third, John Pearson.

In 2011, the three men appraised the building at $10.35 million. After the calculations, Con Edison discovered that Park 51 owed $1.7 million in rent.

El-Gamal refused to pay the amount and filed an injunction against Con Edison, claiming that Con Edison’s appraisal was incorrect. Park 51 filed a petition to negate the appraisal on Nov. 22. According to Park 51’s court petition, the appraisers miscalculated the value of the premises. The community center also claims that the appraisers did not uphold their oaths to be impartial.

“In fact, the appraisers failed to even consider the most fundamental part of a leased property – rental income,” Park 51’s petition reads. “The appraisers’ determination violates both the contract and statute because the appraisers failed to execute their required oaths and issue a proper determination.”

Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Edison, responded, “El-Gamal’s appraisal signed off on the value of $10.35 million.”

During the case, Scott Mollen, Con Edison’s lawyer, presented the judge with an electrical bill of $35,000 that Park 51 failed to pay. They implied that if Park 51 can’t afford to pay this bill then they would not be able to afford to pay the $1.7 million.

As the case continues to be fought, Justice Richard Braun offered a temporary verdict. The first provision is a Yellow Stone Injunction, prohibiting Con Edison from evicting Park 51. The second requires Park 51 to pay $25,000 in rent, and the third, to pay a bond of $780,000.

“This relief [the Yellowstone Injunction] is immediately necessary to prevent Con Ed from seeking to enforce or otherwise act on its wrongful and illegal threat to terminate Park 51’s valuable commercial leasehold,” Matthew Hearle, Park 51’s lawyer, told the court.

Park 51 is currently strategizing for 2012. El-Gamal declined to comment, as he will no longer represent Park 51 in public interviews.

In response to the Yellow Stone Injunction, Mollen argued that Park 51 has not shown any capability of paying off their debts, citing other cases against El-Gamal and his failure to pay rental taxes as required by the lease.

 

 

CityDaniel Poeana