When a lender moved to foreclose on Sharif El-Gamal’s Tribeca condo tower, it tapped one of the top defenders of besieged condo projects to oversee the development while the two parties were in court.
But now, the owners of the Islamic cultural center planned for the site next to Soho Properties’ 45 Park Place want Scott Mollen booted as receiver — the latest procedural parry in the contest over the site.
Mollen, an attorney with Herrick Feinstein, has argued on behalf of projects like the Pierhouse in Brooklyn Heights, which preservationists said blocked views of the Brooklyn Bridge. And he’s currently defending 200 Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, where the court has effectively ordered the developers to deconstruct several of the tower’s upper floors.
Attorneys for the proposed Islamic Museum of New York claim that Mollen “is not ‘completely impartial’ and his appointment as temporary receiver” does not meet the state’s guidelines for the appointment of neutral receivers, according to a motion filed Friday.
Attorney David Scharf of Morrison Cohen argued that Mollen should be disqualified because he represented the former owner of the site nearly a decade ago in a rent dispute with an affiliate of the cultural center.
Mollen, however, argued that the previous case was completely unrelated to his receivership, and said the complex task of ensuring the unfinished tower doesn’t lose its value while the foreclosure case drags on requires an experienced overseer.
“As noted, this is not your ordinary foreclosure and receivership,” Mollen, who declined to comment for this article, wrote in a letter to the judge. “New York City land use expertise is likely to be required.”
The attempt to remove one of real estate’s top litigators as receiver is just one prong in the cultural center’s attempt to get out from under the condo tower’s thumb. The cultural center, which is run by CEO Masood Qureshi, argues that it should not be entangled in the case between El-Gamal and his lender in the first place. The center wants to undo the order appointing a receiver or — short of that — replace Mollen.
The lending consortium led by Malaysian bank Malayan Banking Berhad named the cultural center as a defendant in the foreclosure case it filed in March, in part due to the zoning-lot agreement the center and the condo development signed in 2016 that allowed the tower to use air rights from the property next door.
El-Gamal, president of the cultural center site at the time of the 2016 agreement, claims he stepped down some time after October of last year. His lender has accused him of threatening to invalidate the agreement, thus depriving the condo tower of those air rights.
Contact Rich Bockmann at [email protected] or 908-415-5229.