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Controversial Park51 opens without controversy

Musicians play at ‘NYChildren’ project at the grand

Musicians play at ‘NYChildren’ project at the grand opening of the Park51 community center. (Getty) Photo Credit: Musicians play at ‘NYChildren’ project at the grand opening of the Park51 community center. (Getty)

After more than a year of controversy, the Park51 Islamic Community Center opened its doors Wednesday night two blocks from the World Trade Center, but that storm of contention was largely absent — as was the mosque.

Residents of the area were generally pleased that the scaled-back center opened – and at worst ambivalent – and the scene was void of protesters or anything much resembling the quarreling that has hovered around the center, which is at 51 Park Place between Church Street and West Broadway.

"You have to open it up if we want to be a free country," said Joe Marino, 50, of Battery Park City. "You can't suspect everyone in the world because of how they look or because of their background."

Mery Mugo, 33, who lives a few blocks away, agreed, saying it's beneficial for both the neighborhood's spirits and its business.

"It's a good idea, it will bring people together," she said.

As parts of its opening ceremony, the center featured a photo exhibit by Danny Goldfield called "NYChildren," which displays 169 images of immigrant children.

Controversy erupted in the summer of 2010 when opponents thought it was inappropriate to build the center and a mosque so close to the World Trade Center. But the plan no longer has a mosque, and its founder likened the complex to a community center modeled after the 92nd St. Y and the Jewish Community Center.

Still, the project’s developer, Sharif El-Gamal, does hope to build a mosque nearby in a few years, and that still irks some New Yorkers.

"I think it should be someplace else. It's inappropriate," said Patricia Lorenz, 41, of Deer Park. "The cultural center is fine, but a mosque is not. I don't think it should be here."

But among those who live in the area, the center is seen as a complement to lower Manhattan’s revival 10 years after the attacks.

"The city is trying to get more people down here. Traffic and business down here is good," said Beth Vitiello, 32, who lives in a building next to Park51.

"If it's for the sake of peace and harmony, that's a good thing."


Follow reporter Tim Herrera on Twitter: @tim_herrera

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