Park51 developer considering condos for controversial site

Brokers say Sharif El-Gamal's asking prices are too high for the area

Developer Sharif El-Gamal appears to be considering a residential condominium development on the site of the stalled Park 51 project, also known as the “ground zero mosque.” El-Gamal has approached multiple brokers in Manhattan seeking advice on how to build and market condos at the site, sources told The Real Deal.

The planned 15-story cultural center became a lightning rod for controversy in 2010 due to its proximity to the site of the 9/11 terror attacks.

El-Gamal‘s intention is to ask $2,000 to $2,500 per square foot for the units, according to one source who reviewed his plans. The new concept would not necessarily mean El-Gamal would relocate the planned Islamic cultural center; rather, the building would be mixed-use, offering prayer and public space, as well as residences. The building, a former Burlington Coat Factory, is located at 51 Park Place in the Financial District.

In January, El-Gamal purchased the property next to The Two Park Place parcels he already controls, at 43 Park Place, for $8 million. He owns 45-47 Park Place and leases 51 Park Place from ConEdison; the 45-47 and 51 properties comprise the planned Park51 project. No plans for demolition or major construction appear in Department of Buildings records for any of the three addresses.

El-Gamal did not respond to phone calls or emails for this piece.

“Some brokers say he has reached out,” said Stephen Kliegerman, president of Halstead Property Development Marketing. He declined to comment further and said he had not been approached by the developer personally.

“I am betting on condos,” at the Park51 site, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a real estate attorney who represented El-Gamal in a case where a New York City firefighter sued to have the building landmarked in order to delay construction of the Islamic center. Condos are “a safe bet,” Leitman Bailey said, noting that he has not had contact with El-Gamal since that case was resolved in 2011.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

However, others who reviewed the plans were skeptical that the condos will pencil out — at least while the stigma of the 2010 firestorm lingers. Sources said they had no assurance that El-Gamal could get financing for the project and worried that his reputation as a controversial figure – fair or not – could hamper progress. Construction has not begun at the 51 Park Place site, reports show.

Pricing on the potential units is also overly ambitious for the area, one source said. The average sale price per square foot for new development condos listed in the Financial District in the last year was $1,043, according to StreetEasy.

“[El-Gamal] has called in a bunch of people to talk about doing a kind of a mega condo development on the site,” a real estate executive who was approached by the developer told The Real Deal. “But I can’t imagine anyone getting comfortable enough,” to undertake the project, he said.

A rental might make more sense on the site, the executive said, but based on the projections he was shown, the project is already off schedule.

“Who knows when it will get done, or if it gets done,” he said.

Additionally, the past will likely haunt any condos built on the site, another source, also a prominent executive, said.

“It would probably be viable if it was being done by someone less controversial,” that source said. “I am not sure I would want to be associated with it.”