But by 2011, Mr. El-Gamal bowed to public pressure, little of it local, and abandoned the idea for the cultural center.
The new design replaces Mr. El-Gamal’s vision of a vast space for public gatherings with more standard New York City fare: a very expensive glass and steel tower for the very rich. The site, which extends from 43 to 51 Park Place, will open in 2019 with 50 apartments at 45 Park Place and a much smaller, three-story Islamic museum and public plaza, designed by Jean Nouvel, but no mosque, at 49-51 Park Place.
Gone is the name Park51, although a new name for the museum has not been announced. Mr. El-Gamal’s critics have been largely silent since 2011, even though prayers, events and gatherings continued to be held regularly at 49-51 Park Place until the property closed for demolition in 2015.
Looking back on a period of time that he described as “surreal,” Mr. El-Gamal said: “I wouldn’t change anything. What has transpired here has been an absolute blessing.”
Blessing or not, Mr. El-Gamal is entering the luxury real estate market at a difficult time, with the sales office opening on June 1. Sales of trophy apartments have been lackluster since late 2014. The number of sales of new luxury apartments dropped 25 percent in the first quarter of 2017 from the same time a year ago. During that same period, inventory rose almost 20 percent and new condos sat on the market 49 percent longer, according to a Douglas Elliman report that was prepared by Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants. With inventory saturating the top of the market, buyers looking to spend $5 million or more have plenty of options.
“This is yet another high-end project coming on in the last innings of the development cycle,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel.
One-bedrooms at 45 Park Place start at $1.92 million; two-bedrooms at $3.725 million; three-bedrooms at $4.595 million; and four-bedrooms at $10.5 million. The second duplex penthouse will be listed for about $39 million. Michel Abboud, a founding partner of SOMA Architects, designed the tower; Piero Lissoni designed the interiors.
Asking around $3,400 a square foot, 45 Park Place ranks among the most expensive condos in Manhattan. Only 11 buildings have a higher price per square foot, according to data provided by StreetEasy.
Consider 30 Park Place. The Robert A. M. Stern-designed tower is a block away and has a Four Seasons Hotel beneath it. Apartments there start at the 40th floor and are selling for $3,132 a square foot with 82 percent sold, according to StreetEasy. Thirty Park Place has another advantage: The building is open, so buyers do not have to shop from floor plans and wait two years to move in.
“The idea that 45 Park Place would be able to garner a higher price per square foot a block away seems somewhat far-fetched,” said Grant Long, the senior economist for StreetEasy.
Mr. El-Gamal is confident that 45 Park Place, with 11-foot-high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, will attract buyers eager to live in a high-rise in a neighborhood he describes as TriBeCa. “If I was anywhere else in New York, I would be nervous,” he said, sitting in the offices of Stribling, which is marketing 45 Park Place.
Although the project is marketed as a TriBeCa tower, the area right around 45 Park Place does not have the lofts and the historic ambience of TriBeCa, nor is it within its boundaries. TriBeCa is bounded by Canal Street to the north, West Street to the west, Broadway to the east and Murray Street to the south — which is one block north of Park Place, according to Community Board 1.
At 44, Mr. El-Gamal does not see the outcome of his project as a defeat, but instead as proof of his grit. “Real estate in New York is a blood sport,” he said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Describing the controversy as “a fabricated issue,” Mr. El-Gamal, who received death threats at the time, insisted that the scaled-down museum would still achieve his original objective. “We are still building an Islamic museum and sanctuary,” he said.
For his opponents, even a small center is too much. An Islamic museum “is just as much of an insult,” Pamela Geller, a blogger and one of the center’s most vocal opponents, wrote in an email. “It will be like having a museum touting the glories of the Japanese Empire at Pearl Harbor.”
The brouhaha surrounding the Islamic center was rooted in hyperbole and misinformation, say the project’s supporters. Among Mr. El-Gamal’s allies were Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who gave an impassioned speech in support of religious liberty in August 2010, and Community Board 1, which represents the neighborhood and passed a resolution in support of the project in May 2010.
“A lot of the backlash came from people who did not live in the community, did not even live in New York City,” said Julie Menin, who was chairwoman of Community Board 1 at the time and is now commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “We received thousands of letters from people who were viewing this in a lens that, quite frankly, was shocking.”
Mr. El-Gamal is undeterred by the outrage his idea stirred. Instead, he believes Americans have become more tolerant, not less, of religious freedom, pointing to the protests that sprang up opposing President Trump’s travel ban targeting visitors and immigrants from Muslim nations.
As for a vast Islamic cultural center, “I didn’t give up on the original vision,” he said. “I might do it somewhere else” in New York.