August 21, 2014
Consolidated Edison, which once owned the nuclear reactors at Indian Point, has finally unloaded a property that may have been the source of even more controversy.
The utility company notified state regulators this week that it had sold the site of a proposed Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan that came to be known as the “ground zero mosque.” Con Edison has not used the building since 1969, but the company got caught in the uproar over the proposal when it surfaced nearly five years ago.
By then, Con Edison had been nothing more than the landlord for the building at 49-51 Park Place, about two blocks north of the World Trade Center. It was close enough to the twin towers destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, that a wing flap from one of the crashed jets was found there last year.
That proximity to a place where more than 2,700 people were killed by terrorists set off a national debate about the plan for a mosque and Islamic cultural center on the property. The developer, Soho Properties, eventually abandoned that idea and now plans to build a three-story museum dedicated to Islam on the Con Ed site and a condominium tower on an adjacent lot, 45 Park Place, Roxanne Donovan, a spokeswoman for the developer, said on Wednesday. (The museum would contain a sanctuary for prayer services.)
That plan has been years in the making and it is still not clear if Sharif El-Gamal, the chief executive of Soho Properties, has the financing necessary to move forward. But he cleared one of the hurdles at the end of July, when he bought the Con Edison property for $10.7 million, Ms. Donovan said.
Even that transaction was fraught, though. Soho Properties had been leasing the property until it decided in 2010 to buy it from Con Ed. The utility set the price at $10.7 million, but the developer challenged that valuation in court. After a judge in State Supreme Court in Manhattan confirmed the valuation, the developer appealed.
In a statement issued by Ms. Donovan, Mr. El-Gamal said: “We are pleased to have concluded a complex acquisition from Con Edison allowing us to complete the assemblage for our upcoming developments at Park Place. This further exemplifies our strength as a buyer of real estate from institutional sellers.”
The latest proposal for the Con Ed site, disclosed in late April, called for a “museum and sanctuary space” designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.”
At the time, Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Mr. El-Gamal, said the developer was not anticipating an outcry similar to the one that erupted over his plan for a much larger Islamic community center and prayer space.