Yesterday our humble little Landmarks Preservation Commission got involved in what's become an international story?the proposal to tear down a 9/11-scarred former Burlington Coat Factory store at 45-47 Park Place and replace it with a 15-story community center and mosque called the Cordoba House. The topic at the hearing was whether or not to grant landmark protection to the modest 152-year-old building that's two blocks from the rising 1 World Trade Center tower, an action that could derail the Cordoba House plan. Did we say Cordoba House? Oops, it's now Park51, but not even a name change to what sounds like any generic Manhattan condo building could halt this runaway shitshow train before it got out of the station.
The venue for the hearing had been shifted twice, both times to larger quarters to accommodate the expected crowds. But the hearing room at Hunter College, with a capacity of over 2,000, was filled by less than 200 folks who braved bag searches and metal detectors. Still, the LPC got an earful. Over 50 speakers gave testimony, the vast majority in favor of landmarking the building (and simultaneously making it clear that a mosque should never be allowed anywhere near ground zero). The media were out in force to capture the fireworks, and harsh words soon erupted.
The LPC is in an awkward position, as the designation proposal for the five-story Italianate building has sat in its files for over 20 years with no action. The Landmarks Committee at Community Board 1 hasn't made things any clearer: Last week they voted against awarding landmark status, but included in their resolution a statement saying that, while 45 Park Place wasn't distinguished enough for individual protection, the facade should be dismantled, stored and later used on the new building at the location.
Even if the building is given landmark status, the owners could still build above and around the existing building. The LPC also has no control over the plot next door, which is also part of the Cordoba House lot, and the proposed building does not require any zoning variances to rise to the planned 15 stories.
The LPC is keeping the case open to allow more input and will not vote on the status of 45 Park Place until probably August. Meanwhile, in response to the mosque, plans have been announced for another religious center in the area: A Christian evangelical group will spend $1 million on a nearby prayer center, they say, and until that space is ready prayer meetings will be held at the Embassy Suites next to the new Goldman Sachs tower in Battery Park City. Seems like there's going to be one heck of a feisty Lower Manhattan softball league!
· Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead [NYT]
· Rage unmosqued [NYP]
· Cordoba House mosque near Ground Zero slaps new name on itself with Park51 [NYDN]