Opponents of mosque divided on appropriate distance — if any — from Ground Zero

By Adam Pincus | August 23, 2010 01:45PM

Adelaide Polsinelli and 21 Ann Street

Hundreds of protesters turned out on a rainy Sunday yesterday, unified by their opposition to a Muslim cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. But in interviews, the opponents differed dramatically on how far away any alternate location should be.

Some of the approximately 500 opponents said moving just a few blocks further away would be acceptable, others said a mile and some said no to the construction of a 13-story, 100,000-square-foot center anywhere in the United States.

There was also a smaller rally yesterday in favor of building the proposed center known as Park51, which local politicians from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to Mayor Michael Bloomberg have strongly supported in recent months.

The developer of the project, Soho Properties, whose principal is Sharif El-Gamal, has said he does not plan to move the location from 45-51 Park Place, two blocks from the World Trade Center construction site. However Governor David Paterson said last week he wanted to discuss a new location with the project’s backers, and suggested possibly building on state-owned land, perhaps even with state funding.

Protester Tom Strenta, from Westbury, L.I., said the center should move a mile away from its proposed location on Park Place, a former Burlington Coat Factory store between West Broadway and Church Street. That would exclude most of Manhattan south of Houston Street.

Others believed it could move just a few blocks away.

Retired New York City firefighter Tommy Asher, of Island Park, L.I., who responded to the attacks of Sept. 11, suggested the developers build at the site of a long-established mosque four blocks from Ground Zero, Masjid Manhattan at 20 Warren Street.

“I’ve got no problem with that,” he said. He simply did not want the new development across the street from the zone heavily damaged in the attacks.

Still other protesters did not want the cultural center or any new mosques in Lower Manhattan, or the United States, for that matter. One of the organizers of the protest, Beth Gilinsky, said, “They can build across the ocean. We don’t want them anywhere [in this country].”

In 2009, Soho Properties bought 45-47 Park Place for $4.8 million and paid another $700,000 for the lease rights to neighboring 49-51 Park Place. Now El-Gamal is seeking to buy that building from Consolidated Edison, for a price reported to be between $10 million and $20 million. El-Gamal declined to comment.

That would put the acquisition cost for the property at between $150 per foot and $250 per foot, a relative steal even in the current weak market.

Brokers noted that it would be hard to find such a site nearby at that cost, because prices rise immediately north toward Tribeca, and many of the stalled condominium sites in Lower Manhattan would likely be more expensive or just as controversial, such as Kent Swig’s 45 Broad Street location, since it is very close to the New York Stock Exchange.

The recession has turned hundreds of private development sites in the city into urban pastureland or gravel pits — there are 19 stalled sites in Community Board 1, which covers all of Lower Manhattan, city records show — but it is difficult to determine how many private sites are for sale because land is often sold without being marketed publicly.

“Just because [stalled or foreclosed] sites exist doesn’t mean they are for sale or can be sold,” broker Adelaide Polsinelli, associate vice president at Marcus & Millichap, said.

Some properties were marketed quietly in recent years, such as a garage at 111 Washington Street, and a handful of stalled sites are available if the owners were offered the right price, insiders said.

Polsinelli, who is marketing 21 Ann Street, at Nassau Street just south of City Hall to the east of Broadway, which is one of the few listed development sites in the area, said parcels in Lower Manhattan cost between $200 per foot and $350 per foot.

Robert Friedman, as co-owner of Friedman Management, owns 21 Ann Street, which has 156,000 square feet of development rights on vacant land priced at $46 million, or $295 per foot. He suggested it would be a good location for the center.

“We are across Broadway, which I think is a psychological demarcation point,” he said. Polsinelli said she sent the listing to El-Gamal last week.