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Developer: Plans For N.Y. Mosque Moving Forward

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Developer: Plans For N.Y. Mosque Moving Forward

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Developer: Plans For N.Y. Mosque Moving Forward

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It's been about a year since controversy erupted over the planned Islamic Cultural Center near ground zero. There were protests and harsh rhetoric.

As NPR's Margot Adler reports, progress on the building is slow.

MARGOT ADLER: Months after a group of investors bought the building now called Park51, The New York Times ran a story on the proposed Islamic Cultural Center. December 2009, no one noticed.

When the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who was originally associated with the center, was interviewed by Laura Ingraham on Fox News, Ingraham was positive.

The city and the mayor approved the idea. Then, conservative blogger Pamela Geller went on Fox.

Ms. PAMELA GELLER (Conservative Blogger): What could be more insulting and humiliating than a monster mosque in the shadow of the World Trade Center buildings that were brought down by an Islamic jihadic attack?

ADLER: Opponents flocked to community meetings. And by summer, Republican politicians were all over the issue, like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): This is a slap to those innocent victims who were murdered that day on 9/11.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Republican Speaker of the House): We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor.

ADLER: By September, there was Pastor Terry Jones who threatened...

Mr. TERRY JONES (Pastor, Dove World Outreach Church): We're going to burn the Quran.

ADLER: ...unless the center was moved.

On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, there were demonstrations on the streets of New York.

Unidentified Group: Not here. Not here.

ADLER: Then came the election, and afterwards, for most people, it all went away.

So what's the status of the Islamic Cultural Center now?

Many of the names people associate with the building are no longer involved. There's been a split between the owner of the building, developer Sharif El-Gamal, and Imam Abdul Rauf. The imam's wife, Daisy Khan, says they are developing their own vision for a center, which they will announce in a couple of months. So far, there are no specifics. And if you examine the tax forms of their nonprofit, The Cordoba Initiative, very little money has been raised.

So the main action is back at the building with developer Gamal, owner of Park51. Gamal says they've been building their board, their advisory board.

Mr. SHARIF EL-GAMAL (Owner, Park51): Our staff is inching close to a dozen people right now.

ADLER: They only applied for nonprofit status in November, and it can take up to a year. They have a thick, glossy, fundraising document and a PowerPoint presentation for potential funders.

Gamal says the model is New York's Jewish Community Center, which has all the services of a YMCA, but they raised money first, then they thought about a building. They say, didn't you do this thing backwards?

Mr. EL-GAMAL: I'm not going to disagree on that, and we've made lots of mistakes along the way.

ADLER: What kind of mistakes? Announcing the name of one funder who got besieged by the media, emphasizing two imams both no longer associated with the project.

Mr. EL-GAMAL: It started turning into a project of individuals.

ADLER: They're not going to get big funders until they get nonprofit status, and they don't want to give out names until there are a dozen members of the board, and a group of funders to announce together. There are also economic issues. But events are happening in the old building on Park Place.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

ADLER: At last Friday's prayers, there were several hundred people. They've shown films, had Arabic classes, a meeting between Shiites and Sunnis, and they're planning more.

They have a four-phase plan, but they admit the timeline for a new building is years away.

Mr. EL-GAMAL: It's going to take five years, at a minimum.

ADLER: Given New York City, given financial and political complexities, that seems optimistic. The Jewish Community Center took 11 years.

What's the building going to look like? The PowerPoint presentation shows the mosque on level one. The 13 to 15 floors will include everything from a museum space, a 9/11 memorial, a place for interfaith meetings...

Mr. EL-GAMAL: auditorium, a media-tech library, a sports pool, a wellness center, a fitness center, a culinary school...

ADLER: Sharif el-Gamal sees his institution as representing both Islamic traditions and American traditions. He calls jihadists criminals acting in the name of his faith. Gamal is 38. He owns about 10 buildings, and he's put more than $2 million of his own money into this project, he says.

And he adds this is hard.

Mr. EL-GAMAL: Again, there's no CliffsNotes.

ADLER: But he's convinced it will happen. He says maybe we should just give in and call it the Ground Zero Mosque. Everyone else does. Of course, the mosque is already there. The rest, that's the big question.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

BLOCK: And you can see some of the plans for Park51 at

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