Recently, the infamous Ground Zero mosque in lower Manhattan, New York City, opened its doors to the community. While it seemed as though the controversial house of worship was steadily beginning to work toward its lofty goal of creating a massive, 10-story community center, a major dispute over back rent may lead to eviction.
According to reports, the mosque's developers purportedly owe a large sum of money in back rent. Con Edison, the primary company that provides electricity to New York City and its surrounding localities, is giving the developers an ultimatum: Either pay the $1.7 million they owe in back rent or their lease will be terminated and the property will be seized.
The developers of the proposed Park51 community center have what the New York Post calls an "unusual, uneasy alliance" with Con Ed in that the two parties share ownership of the site on which the worship center is to be built. The Post explains:
The utility owns a former substation on the western half of the property, at 51 Park Place, and the mosque developers own a five-story building on the eastern half. The buildings were connected years ago and used to house a Burlington Coat Factory store.
Park51, which leases the substation from Con Ed, wants the two buildings so it can knock both down and build a $100 million, 15-story community center.
Here's where the root of the problem stems: In August, the electric company raised the rent from a more manageable $2,750 monthly rate -- a sum that was set in stone back in 1972 -- to $47,437 per month. Even more surprising than the actual jump in cost (although this is prime, NYC real estate, so high costs are to be expected) is that the rule change was retroactive, going back to July 21, 2008 (this is where the $1.7 million tab comes from).
The Park Place property was purchased back in 2009 by Park51 developers for $4.8 million. At the same time, the developers paid $700,000 for the substation lease. According to court papers, the Con Ed property is worth $10.7 million. The developers are opposed to the numbers that Con Ed has come up with and contend that they owe only $881,519 in back rent. The monthly rent, they say, should be $25,875 -- not $47,437 -- moving forward.
The utilities company drafted a letter that demanded the money by October 4 and threatened Park51 developers with eviction. But this isn't the first time that the people behind the mosque, including lead developer Sharif El-Gamal, have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. So, they're fighting back.
The developers subsequently responded with a lawsuit, calling the rent demands "outrageous" and lamenting the "wrongful termination." Currently, a court order that was obtained by Gamal prevents Con Ed from ending the lease -- a temporary measure until this is sorted out.
Below, watch a recent PBS special about Gamal and his contentious mosque project: