Just when it looked like the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero “mosque” was finally behind us, a furor has errupted yet again over the developer of Park51′s decision to apply for 9/11 rebuilding grants from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
The news first broke this morning at The Daily Beast, where writer John Avalon (a former Giuliani speechwriter) reports that two sources have told him Park51 is seeking $5 million in redevelopment grants. Park51 has since confirmed the news with a brief blog post on its site noting that the money will go to social services projects, such as domestic violence prevention and arts programming, and it will also provide hundreds of construction jobs.
Developer Sharif El-Gamal spoke with Crain’s about the request, noting that he was simply investigating all possible financial avenues for the project. He also mentioned that a number of banks have expressed interest in financing the project.
Will that still be true now? The news of the bond bid is already sweeping the Twitterverse, the right-leaning pubs and even making its way onto CNN. As has been said time and again, the majority, maybe even vast majority, of Park51′s neighbors want the community center built, so spending Lower Manhattan redevelopment funds on the project makes sense. Even Avalon, a local, admits there is good sense behind the project and the application.
But the optics appear so obviously wrong, it is rather amazing El-Gamal and company went here. Perhaps they want to test their mettle, or the mayor’s, on the matter, see just how far they can push their plans and still get the project built. Depending on one’s perspective–not The Observer‘s, mind you–this could be construed as a grab by a group connected to 9/11 making a grab for federal taxpayer dollars meant to heal decimated downtown after those very same attacks. Even if this request is totally reasonable and justified, it will only stoke the fires of unreasonable anger that already surround it.