Landmarks Decision Clears the Way for Islamic Cultural Center Near Ground Zero

In a unanimous vote Tuesday denying a Tribeca building landmark status, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for an Islamic cultural center to be built just two blocks from Ground Zero. Opponents had assailed the project, calling it an insult to the memories of the nearly 3,000 victims of the September 11th attacks.

The commission said the 152-year-old building at 45-47 Park Place "does not rise to the level of an individual landmark."

"I think it's a victory for American liberties," one supporter, Zead Ramadan, said after the vote. "I think the commission acted objectively and they did not allow the rhetoric of fear and hate to affect their decision-making."

Almost immediately, one of the opposition groups, the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice, announced it would file suit in state Supreme Court on Wednesday. An attorney for group, Brett Joshpe, said that the commission vote showed favoritism towards a religious institution.

"We believe that if this property were any other proposed use, if it were a proposed movie theater, that the building would have been landmarked," he said.

The cultural center, called the Cordoba house, has became a touchstone for elected officials. Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino immediately released statements blasting the commission, and the mayor who appointed them, for not stopping the project.

Michael Caputo, Paladino’s campaign manager, called the Landmarks Commission members "stooges" who did what they were told by Bloomberg, a supporter of the project.

The mayor called a press conference to praise the vote on Governors Island. The podium was arranged so that television cameras would show the Statue of Liberty in the background.

"We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently that anyone else," Bloomberg said. "It is my hope that the mosque will bring our city even closer together and repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks on 9/11 were consistent with Islam."

The commission vote was the largest official obstacle that Cordoba House faces, but that's not to say the financial obstacles are not daunting. The group estimates it will cost about $100 million, which it says it could take years to raise.