Ground Zero Mosque Faces Eviction

Remember Park 51, the controversial mosque and Muslim community center near Ground Zero? It’s now facing a new problem.

NY Post (“Con Ed says it will evict Ground Zero mosque unless developer pays $1.7 million in back rent“):

Con Ed has given the Ground Zero mosque an ultimatum: Pay the $1.7 million you owe in back rent, or we’ll terminate your lease and take back our property.

Con Ed and mosque developer Park51 have an unusual, uneasy alliance, sharing ownership of a site slated to be one of the most controversial projects in city history.
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.
But the plan hit a major obstacle in August when Con Ed raised the rent from $2750 a month, a rate set in 1972, to $47,437 a month, retroactive to July 31, 2008, The Post has learned.

When the mosque failed to fork over the $1.7 million, the utility fired off a letter demanding the money by Oct. 4 and threatening to evict.

Park51 principals responded with a lawsuit to stop the increase, calling Con Ed’s rent demands “outrageous.” ”Whether it is bowing to political pressure or seeking to retain the valuable premises for itself, Con Ed appears intent on proceeding with its wrongful termination,” argued Sharif El-Gamal, the lead Park51 developer.

Gamal said Con Ed’s move also wipes out his ability to eventually buy the substation building, where the Park51 developers have converted the first floor into a prayer space. They turned the first floor of the adjoining building into a cultural center and recently debuted their first event, a photography exhibit.

I don’t pretend to understand New York’s unusual rent control laws but this strikes me as absurd. Certainly, it’s bizarre to still be paying rent based on 1972 prices. Inflation alone would dictate that a $2750 rent have gradually increased to almost $15,000. Still, a 17-fold increase in one fell swoop seems a mite excessive. And doing it retroactively almost certainly illegal.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I’m not familar with NYC rent law at all but this seems just way out there in the outfield. If Gamal’s lawyers do find something that shows the actions of Con Ed (who by no stretch of the imagination is a good guy) are illegal, you can bet that Con Ed will find a judge that is against that project.