On Friday, the developer of the Park51 Islamic community center kicked off a $7 million fundraising drive, but that does not mean the project is getting off the ground any time soon.
Developer Sharif El-Gamal, whom The Observer revealed to the world last summer, sat down with The Times to reveal new details on the planning for the project. Mr. El-Gamal is now taking a more measured approach, having done things “backwards” before. It could be five years before anything is built, he admits, and what that will be is now very much up, or down, in the air.
He said the ultimate form of the center, called Park51, and its building would be determined after consultation with two main audiences, residents of Lower Manhattan and Muslims who live in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Mr. El-Gamal also said he would assess the community response to the events now held at Park51’s makeshift space, varying from art exhibits and yoga and Brazilian martial arts classes to Muslim holiday observances and a discussion for Muslim and non-Muslim children about bullying.
“If the community only wants four or five floors, it’s going to be four or five floors,” Mr. El-Gamal said.
One thing that is not in question, he said, is the center’s location. Legally, he is entitled to operate a religious institution there; the project required no zoning approval, though it was voluntarily presented to Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which approved it in May 2010.
That is news that will make many people happy, and just as many mad. After all, yesterday’s story garnered only 89 comments.