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The Real Story Behind the ‘Ground Zero Church’ Rebuilding Delay

posted by Nicole Neroulias

As the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” (neither at Ground Zero, nor a mosque) controversy has raged on, fellow Greek Americans have been urging me to instead write about St. Nicholas, the Ground Zero church (no qualifier needed) destroyed on 9/11.

Here’s my Religion News Service piece. (Also picked up on The Huffington Post, but the last three pararaphs were trimmed for length on that version.) The Associated Press and New York Times have also covered the story this week, and we’re all painting a more fair and balanced portrait of the situation than what you’ll catch on Fox News (though this online story is OK), where political posturing by folks like Congressional candidate George Demos and gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio rather simplistically — if not irresponsibly — frames this as a case of city officials choosing a mosque over a church.

FYI, the projects — and the problems — are utterly unrelated. Park51, formerly known as Cordoba House, wants to build an Islamic community center, open to everyone, on private property in the Tribeca neighborhood several blocks north of Ground Zero. It got the community board’s approval and has Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blessing, but now faces heated national outcry stoked by Islamophobes and politicians. In contrast, St. Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox church with only a few dozen regular worshipers before 9/11, has been mired in Ground Zero-specific bureaucracy for years, trying to hammer out a deal with the Port Authority to swap its tiny piece of land for a bigger plot and receive millions of dollars in public funds for the construction and security requirements. (As my story explains, these negotiations stalled more than a year ago — long before the Park51 controversy erupted. Meanwhile, the church has also had some trouble accounting for the donations it has received, which you can read more about in The National Herald, a Greek American newspaper.)

Parish council president John Couloucoundis told me, in a quote that didn’t end up making my story, “We’d rather not be in the forefront for this reason, because it’s not the same kind of project. Our real concern is getting to the bottom of why the Port Authority isn’t moving forward with us.” But, church leaders aren’t stupid — they’re not going to turn away free publicity for their cause, even if they don’t object to Park51’s plans. As Father Mark Arey, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America spokesman, states in my story, the controversy is “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

If you’re interested, I could post more from my interviews with Arey and Couloucoundis. Or, are all you non-New Yorkers getting sick of Ground Zero religion news? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 2:21 pm

The Saudi Royal Family are FUNDING the REPUBLICAN PARTY via NEWSCORP? Whaaa?

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posted August 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Oh my Nicole,
You’ve gone and lanced the biol of hot air and rhetoric with the fine needles of reason and you know, evidence.
Trying to figure out how to blast this to the hundreds of posters of “poor little church, evil mosque” comments around here.

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posted August 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm

umm ‘boil’ :)

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posted August 24, 2010 at 6:51 pm

When people say, it’s not the money…it’s the money. When people say it’s not Islam, it’s Islam. But on the other hand. Regardless of what I wanted to do, If I had two thirds of the people against it, I’d change my plans. If the Muslims think this is going to enhance their standing with the American people, they’re wrong. If, they are merely wanting to show they can do it, then they can thank the Americans for the country which is free and hopefully always will be. Could Christians build a large edifice in downtown Riyadh? Tehran?

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Robert C

posted August 24, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Well it seems to me that the little orthodox church should simply sue the Port Auority. It was their building that toppled and destroyed their church. Case for shoddy construction could certainly be made.
With that in mind good luck to Cordoba House in trying to get NY workmen or unions to build there.

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Andre John

posted August 25, 2010 at 5:30 am

I heard somethin on the news that Mr. Barack Obama maybe the AntiChrist? i wouldn’t could not believe it at first, but until recently on the news, uknow, about the new proposal for a Muslim Mosque to be built, guess what, in all places, at WTC ground zero 9.11.2001, under the guise of PEACEFUL TOLERANCE toward all people’s religions and/or beliefs?!
2012 here we come, true or not, May G=D have mercy on us all. +AMDG+
Read more:
Read more:

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Ant C.

posted August 25, 2010 at 9:44 am

Journalism 101:
Don’t ever cite yourself as a primary source in one of your articles. It’s poor journalism.

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kesley from Brazil

posted August 25, 2010 at 10:30 am

About St. Nicholas Parish seems to me that the internal problem is allready resolved!!! And a Magnate is now the parish president, so the problem stills to be the authorities of the city, they are very slow about the church and very fast about the mosque. And, here, where i live everybody lives really free when in religion theme, but the islamics here they are very quiet!!!

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Nicole Neroulias

posted August 25, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thanks, Erich. If you want a shorter link to this blog post, I always include one in my Twitter feed ( — this one is
Ant C. — are you referring to this blog post citing one of my stories? Blog posts aren’t like articles — think of them as more like DVD extras, especially when I use them to give more background information on a story that I’ve covered. Or, are you responding to Andre John’s comment?

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posted August 25, 2010 at 11:27 am

Authority tower falls on church. Church’s site no longer appropriate given new contexts of Authority plans. Nine years go by (actually not until 2013 would the site be ready according to the Authority, I think?), which is a long time for a small congregation to be deprived of a building through no doing of its own. Cost of rebuilding on the site due to Manhattan costs and security requirements is all exorbitantly high. I’m not sure that any insurance (if the church had it) would cover replacement due to damage from a terrorist attack. All this adds up to the Port Authority, which is a quasi-public fiefdom and not a publicly elected directly-accountable-to-the-public unit of government, needing to talk with the church about getting plans moving–which would at least provide a focus for the congregation to keep going. That the Authority has failed to do this bespeaks a lack of concern about the church, which was the only house of worship destroyed in the attack and happens to be Christian. So the issues here, while unrelated to the Cordoba House project, are in another way symbolically entwined with furor over the second project. Symbolism for good or bad can take on a reality of its own. It seems a no-brainer that public leaders need to provide leadership in pushing the Port Authority to some movement on this (which also might take some of the heat out of the other controversy, if it’s demonstrated that this Christian church project on the site is also moving ahead).

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kesley from Brazil

posted August 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm

And about the small orthodox congregation, it’s ok there cause the orthodox way is all about relationship, how a priest will take really care since he’s to be a father a spiitual one over many parishioners, and as i see the orthodox church is not a roman conqueror or a islam one . So the point of view is very diferent, what i am trying to day is hatthe muslins, roma catholics and protestants wants to conquer the world an the orthodoxies just wann live and praise ok in this world. So let them build the parish, and let then buid the mosque too. But they deserve the same treatment of the city authorities.

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Ant C.

posted August 26, 2010 at 12:19 am

“Ant C. — are you referring to this blog post citing one of my stories? Blog posts aren’t like articles — think of them as more like DVD extras, especially when I use them to give more background information on a story that I’ve covered.”
No. Blog posts are now an acceptable form of journalism and should conform to journalistic standards. It is an insult to your writing to refer to your blog posts as “extras” just because it appears on the internet. You should aim higher.

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Nicole Neroulias

posted August 26, 2010 at 11:10 am

There are many, many different kinds and styles of blogs out there, Ant C. This one doesn’t aim replace the articles that I and other religion reporters write for Religion News Service and other media outlets, but rather to round up and supplement coverage on a particular topic making headlines. Occasionally, this includes a link to my own work and some “bonus” information that didn’t make it into that particular story.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts — now, let’s get back on topic!

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posted August 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The stalled negotiations are moving again: ‘In [Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s] weekly conversation with radio host John Gambling, the mayor suggested a deal for the church’s rebuilding was imminent. [….] Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said the …church “has and will always have the right” to rebuild the church. He said the two sides [the Port Authority and the Archdiocese] have begun negotiating on the terms again.’ (Article date: 8/28/10)

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posted September 11, 2010 at 10:58 pm

There is very good if Muslims In New York to act wisely , as narrated about the prophet Mohammed SAW, the love to Islam do not need to be realized with the need for victory, especially over the suffering of others. The establishment of mosque in the zero point will be a message to future generations about the victory and triumph of Islam over its enemies, namely that the islamic center stands with the majestic as a symbol of victory after successfully destroying the infidels ( Kafirun), as the triumph of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus over the st John Baptist church , or The mosque in Amritsar over Hindu religious symbol , or the destruction of Buddha statues in Bamyan – Afghanistan , or also the Masjidil Aqsa stands adjacent to the birthplace of Jesus. If its intention is not to convey as a message to future generations or pure only intention as a place of worship , then look elsewhere . . .

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