Park51 seeks funding from L.M.D.C.

BY Aline Reynolds

After a hiatus that lasted several weeks, Park51 has once again found itself in the media limelight.

SoHo Properties, the developer of the proposed community center on Park Place, has applied for $5 million in federal grant money that would finance programming at the center, including domestic violence prevention and homeless veteran services. The grants would also fund two multi-cultural art exhibits, immigration services and Arabic and other foreign language classes, according to its blog, park51.org.

“Park51 remains committed to exploring all sources of revenue and funding to build the community center in Lower Manhattan,” El-Gamal told the New York Times. “It is important to note that this community center will provide hundreds of construction jobs over the next few years and, when opened, will provide 150 permanent jobs.”

The Park51 board also applied for money to purchase equipment and to lease or buy the building at 49-51 Park Place, according to a New York Times report. There is no mention of the money funding the community center’s prayer space.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf had no involvement in the grant application, according to Gene Grabowski, a spokesperson for the Imam.

“Handling development and fundraising is not in his area of expertise,” Grabowski said. The L.M.D.C. has previously funded the Eldridge Street Project, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the 92nd Street Y, other institutions with religious affiliations.

Yet the grant request has renewed the firestorm surrounding the community center. Though conservative blogger and activist Pamela Geller is not lining up any protests just yet, she is vehemently speaking out against El-Gamal’s latest move.

“The claim that it will be directed to other uses is irrelevant; money is fungible, and money given for one purpose frees up other funds to be used for other purposes,” she said in an e-mail. “The $5 million Islamic supremacist request represents nearly one-third of all the $17 million that is now available.”

The request for federal funding, Geller continued, “adds insult to injury” to 9/11 families who are opposed to the mosque.

Other activists, however, are using the news as an opportunity to bolster their support of the project. “We are hopeful that the L.M.D.C. treats [Park51’s] application just as equitably and fairly as any other application, and [that they] base their decision on the merits rather than the politics,” said Deanna Bitetti, associate director for Common Cause New York, a nonprofit advocacy organization in support of the community center.

Debbie Almontaser, board chair of the Muslim Consultative Network, echoed that Park51’s application “should not be treated any differently than any of the institutions in Lower Manhattan seeking to rebuild and revitalize that area.”

“If Park51 meets all the grant guidelines,” she continued, “we hope it will be given serious consideration.”

So far, the L.M.D.C. has received 255 applications from a wide range of Lower Manhattan nonprofits (south of Houston Street) for its Community and Cultural Enhancement grant, amounting to a total of more than $175 million in funds. The grant, however, is only worth $17 million.

The L.M.D.C.’s community and cultural enhancements panel scrupulously reviews every application, singling out grant recipients that are financially feasible. “It’s a very careful vetting process,” said L.M.D.C. Board Member Julie Menin, who sits on the panel. The process, which would include site visits, could take several months.

Neither Menin nor John De Libero, a spokesperson for the L.M.D.C., would comment on the likelihood of Park51’s awarding of the funds.