The controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center is bringing dozens of tourists and locals to Lower Manhattan, to a dingy stretch of Park Place to see where it would be built. In some cases, seeing the former Burlington Coat Factory building up close is changing people's minds about the seriousness of the issue.
Gwen Jones, from Dallas, says she was neutral on the topic until she stopped by the site of Park 51, the name of the cultural center, with her husband. After visiting, she says she didn't really see why some people are opposed to the project.
But David Hines, who works at a Wall Street firm nearby, says he was against the project before, and is still against it now. He says he was in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. "I support freedom of religion, but I think the better part of valor is to let them have the mosque in any other place but here," Hines says. "It's a little bit too close."
The NYPD has stationed a patrol car outside the building for extra security and the controversy is expected to continue with competing rallies scheduled for this weekend.
Opponents of the project are conducting what they call a "sacred ground honor ride," which is expected to draw motorcyclists from around the country, as well as 9/11 family members and others. They intend to walk from the World Trade Center site to Park 51 for a rally. And a couple of blocks away will be another rally, held by a group called the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia. One of its founders, Elaine Brower, is an Italian-American and the mother of a marine who has served three tours of duty. "He says to me, 'Mommy, I thought we lived in America. I thought I fought for freedom. What's going on with these people?'" Brower says.
Brower adds that supporters of the Islamic cultural center have been scared into silence by opponents of the project. But, she's hoping they'll start to assert themselves soon.