Ground Zero Muslim center may get public financing

NEW YORK Sat Aug 28, 2010 1:08pm EDT

A demonstrator who supports the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque Park51 stands with a sign in front of the site in New York August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A demonstrator who supports the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque Park51 stands with a sign in front of the site in New York August 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.

The Democratic comptroller's spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.

"If it turns out to be financially feasible and if they can demonstrate an ability to pay off the bonds and comply with the laws concerning tax-exempt financing, we'd certainly consider it," Sieber told Reuters.

Spokesmen for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor David Paterson and the Islamic center and were not immediately available.

The proposed center, two blocks from the Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, has caused a split between people who lost relatives and friends in the attack, as well as conservative politicians, and those who support the project. Among those who support it are the mayor, civic and religious groups, and some families of victims.

The mosque's backers hope to raise a total of $70 million in tax-exempt debt to build the center, according to the New York Times. Tax laws allow such funding for religiously affiliated non-profits if they can prove the facility will benefit the general public and their religious activities are funded separately.

The bonds could be issued through a local development corporation created for this purpose, experts said.

The Islamic center would have to repay the bonds, which likely would be less expensive than taxable debt.

New York City's Industrial Development Authority could not issue debt for the center because the state civic facilities law, which governed this type of financing for non-profits, was allowed to expire about two years ago.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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