Consolidated Edison is seeking $1.7 million in back rent from the developer of the Muslim community center and mosque near Ground Zero, the latest setback for the controversial project, known as Park51.
The New York Post reported that Con Ed raised the rent of 51 Park Place, which occupies the western part of the planned site for the mosque, from $2,750 per month to $47,437, retroactive to July 31, 2008. The previous rent dates back to 1972, and the two parties disagree over the new rent, which is based on the appraised value of the property.
Sharif El-Gamal, the lead developer, said that the group owes $881,519 in rent and should pay $25,875 per month, based on its appraisal.
But Con Ed is threatening to evict the developer, which is using the first floor of the former electrical substation as temporary prayer space, unless the full $1.7 million is paid.
El-Gamal has filed a lawsuit to stop the increase, which would also prevent them from eventually acquiring the building, demolishing it and building the new community center. The New York State Supreme Court has prevented the termination of the lease until a hearing, scheduled for Nov. 17.
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, said El-Gamal in the lawsuit.
He purchased 45-47 Park Place for $4.85 million in 2009 and paid $700,000 to lease 51 Park Place.
A spokesman for Con Ed told The New York Times that the company has defended the tenant's right to buy the property, but that it was obliged to its rate-payers and shareholders to seek outstanding rent.
It isn't the first time that Gamal has been involved in a rent dispute. Last year, his firm Soho Properties was evicted from its office at 552 Broadway after it owed landlord Royal Crospin Corp. $39,000 in back rent, according to a Manhattan Housing Court filing.
Park51's financing is still uncertain. A recent fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter yielded $70,722, but no other funding has been announced. The project caused an uproar last year when it applied for a $5 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which was created to distribute federal funding to the area after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The entire project was expected to cost around $100 million and be 15 storeys, with a latticed façade. But plans were scaled back in August, and the new plan calls for around eight stories and is expected to be around $17 million, according to its architects.