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Developer plans smaller Islamic museum near ground zero

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 3:35 PM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Developer Sharif El-Gamal plans to build a museum near ground zero
  • El-Gamal previously planned a 15-story, $100 million mosque near the site
  • The new plan calls for a three-story museum designed by architect Jean Nouvel

(CNN) -- A three-story museum and sanctuary dedicated to Islam near the World Trade Center site in New York is the latest plan from a developer who failed to build his "ground zero" mosque amid local and national opposition more than three years ago.

Rather than the 15-story, $100 million mosque and community center that raised such ire, developer Sharif El-Gamal now plans a smaller, three-story museum and sanctuary at 45-51 Park Place, to be designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel.

"New York's arts and cultural institutions have always been a great inspiration to me and I consider this opportunity to create a museum to be a true privilege," El-Gamal said in a statement released April 30 through his publicist, Hank Sheinkopf. "Commissioning an architect of Jean Nouvel's talent is a dream come true."

Developer Sharif El-Gamal is planning to build a museum focused on Islam in Lower Manhattan.
Developer Sharif El-Gamal is planning to build a museum focused on Islam in Lower Manhattan.

In 2010, El-Gamal faced opposition to his mosque proposal from some families of September 11 victims, anti-Islamic activists and others who thought the mosque was to close to the World Trade Center site. President Barack Obama said he supported the right of Muslims to build a house of worship on private property, adding that his support was not a comment on the "wisdom" of such a decision. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former Speaker of the House of Representatives and "CNN Crossfire" co-host Newt Gingrich joined the debate, coming out against the site's location.

El-Gamal tells CNN why he wanted to build the mosque

Although he didn't lay out a budget or timeline for construction, El-Gamal's application to demolish the existing buildings at 45 Park Place and 51 Park Place were approved April 7, a New York City Department of Buildings spokesman confirmed. But the developer hasn't filed the necessary paperwork for permits to start demolition, the spokesman said.

El-Gamal's news release didn't offer many specifics about what the museum will showcase, although "it will likely display rotating exhibitions of art and host academic and cultural events."

It's not clear how much more opposition he might face three years later, but El-Gamal has already taken at least one step to better negotiate the rough-and-tumble debate around New York development: He's hired veteran New York publicist Sheinkopf to manage his communications.

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