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Monday, December 20, 2010

Saudi King may consider providing alternate downtown location for Ground Zero mosque

12/19/10, "A Manhattan lawyer with ties to the Saudi royal family is sounding out officials and community leaders about a plan to move the controversial Ground Zero mosque to the West Village.
  • Attorney Dudley Gaffin is claiming King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia might want to buy shuttered St. Vincent's Medical Center and transfer the mosque to a new Islamic cultural center he would build on a plot at the site, say sources who have heard Gaffin's pitch.
The king, worth more than $20 billion, would also save the hospital, reopening most of the units that closed when St. Vincent's filed for bankruptcy on April 14, the sources said.

They say that Gaffin, who heads his own firm in lower Manhattan, is floating the idea to gauge what the reaction might be -- and to ready a bid to rival the Rudin Organization, which is trying to snap up St. Vincent's in bankruptcy court with an eye on tearing down six hospital buildings for luxury housing.

  • "He's asking what it would take to put in a bid," said one community leader who did not want to be identified.

"He says the king wants to do this as a p.r. move -- to save the hospital and move the mosque away from the World Trade Center site," the source added. "He wants to show that Muslims can do good works."

"[Gaffin is] talking about the Saudis," said another source, a politically connected lawyer. "I don't know if any conversations have taken place [with them]."

  • The cost would be at least $300 million -- the combined amount that the Sisters of Charity, which owns the hospital, owes the biggest secured creditors, GE Capital and TD bank.

"He wanted to know what it would cost," said the community leader.

Gaffin said the mosque and cultural center would likely be built in a space now occupied by a shuttered nursing facility on 12th Street, just east of Seventh Avenue.

  • Sources said Gaffin claimed to have broached the topic with Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, but reps for both denied it."
No one here has heard of this," said Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna.

Gaffin sought legal advice on the matter from former council member Herb Berman and revealed the plan to the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, a group of doctors and nurses trying to resurrect St. Vincent's, the sources said.

Gaffin's nephew, Ariel Barkai, said he's pals with a Saudi royal and was asked to pitch the idea to his friend but declined. "There were some discussions -- somebody's trying to save the hospital," said Barkai. "But the Saudis never hired us."

Reps for Abdullah, one of the world's wealthiest men, did not return calls seeking comment.

The 87-year-old king is currently in town after recuperating from back surgery he had at New York-Presbyterian hospital on Dec. 3.

  • Abdullah previously said he would not get involved with the Ground Zero mosque.

Developer Sharif El-Gamal wants to construct a $100 million mosque and Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero, but the project has gotten bogged down amid controversy and financial woes.

St. Vincent's sprawling campus includes a 758-bed teaching hospital. Most of those injured on 9/11 were treated there -- as it was the closest level-one trauma center. In the aftermath of the attack, it became a gathering point for friends and family of the missing, and a fence near the hospital displayed hundreds of photos of victims."

via Weasel Zippers

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