Park 51 opens to the public

Top left: Photographer Danny Goldfield being interviewed, top right: Visitors at the Park51 exhibition, bottom left: Developer Sharif El-Gamal, Park51 board member Nour Mousa, Rana Sodhi, inspiration for photo project, and photographer Danny Goldfield cut the ribbon on Park51, and bottom right: Community Board One Chair Julie Menin speaks at opening event (credit: David Gordon Photography)

Park51, the site of a proposed mosque and community center in Lower
Manhattan, officially opened its doors at 45-51 Park Place to the

public last night with an exhibition on the ground floor featuring
photos of children from all over the world in New York City.

“We’ve developed an exhibition space, but also a mixed-use space that
is ultimately going to start serving for meetings, for screenings, a
place where we can start getting our sponsors and our friends and our
neighbors to come in, and understand what it is that we plan on doing,
and really demystifying this whole project,” Sharif El-Gamal, CEO of Soho Properties, the lead
developer of the project, said in a brief interview withThe Real
. He said the exhibition space had previously

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been “raw,” and that Park51 had been able to renovate it. Of the renovation cost, El-Gamal would only say, “it was not cheap.” According to a Park51 press release, $70,000 for the remodeled space was raised through .

The next steps are aimed at obtaining funding for the rest
of the project, while continuing to engage the public, he said. “We
get hundreds of tourists every day that want to see what the Muslims
are building in Lower Manhattan,” he said. “So we couldn’t think of a
better first expression of Park51 than 170 different children from 170
different countries that really represent our city and will represent
the foundation and the model of this project.” The photographs for the exhibit, called NYChildren, were taken by Brooklyn photographer Danny Goldfield. A sign on the wall of the exhibition noted that several countries were not yet represented, and explained the criteria for children to be included aside from permission from a parent or guardian and being under 12: the child should live in one of the five boroughs, and have been born in one of the countries or have two parents from one of the countries. Missing countries include Benin, Monaco, North Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Vaunatu.

Even though the project has attracted much controversy due to its proximity to the World Trade Center site, including in a recent congressional election, there were no protestors at the event last night. Still, the space was crowded with curious visitors, supporters of the project, and many journalists.

El-Gamal said the current ground-floor space is around 5,000 square
feet. The prayer space that is already used leads off from the exhibition space.

Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, praised the opening of Park51 and described it as a symbol of Lower Manhattan’s revival. She noted that while there had been fears that after the 2001 terrorist attacks few people would want to live and work in in Lower Manhattan, today “it is one of the fastest growing residential neighborhoods in the city.”

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