Jason St. James, Albany Government Law Review Member
On September 11, 2001 the collective consciousness of the United States of America was forever shattered. Gone was the visage of invincibility, replaced by feelings of disbelief, heartache, shock, and awe, the likes of which had not been felt since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. While almost seven decades separate these catastrophic events, one common thread still exists: the spirit of America was underestimated. In the wake of the unimaginable, President George W. Bush stated, “[o]ur enemies have made the mistake that America’s enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness. And now, they see defeat.” Another conflict now looms on the horizon. This battle is not being waged by the use of arms, but through a clashing of ideals. The ambitious Park51 Project acts a lithmus test of U.S. resolve to learn and move past the 9/11 tragedy.
Park51, originally designated as the “Cordoba House,” is a proposed fifteen-story Muslim community center located approximately two city blocks from the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Soho Properties Chairman and CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, are heading the project. The Park51 Project has been controversially referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” because it will contain a Muslim prayer space capable of holding between 1000–2000 people. However, the community center design also includes a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, child care area, library, culinary school, art studio, food court, and a September 11 memorial. The proposed community center will be replacing an 1850’s Italian-style structure that was being used as both a Syms and Burlington Coat Factory, until the building was damaged during the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. One possible obstacle to the construction was the discussed conferment of landmark status upon the current 1850’s building, but on August 3, 2010, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9–0 against granting landmark status and historic protection to the building, thus clearing the way for the building’s demolition.