Developer to erect super-pricey condo tower on controversial mosque site near Ground Zero

Sharif El-Gamal, who had planned to build a Islamic Center there, will build a 667-foot condominium, where units will sell for more than $3,000 per square foot.


It’s been four years since Manhattan developer Sharif El-Gamal shelved plans for a 15-story Islamic cultural center, near Ground Zero, that drew international debate. He’s looking to attract a different kind of attention for his current project on the site.

Mr. El-Gamal’s Soho Properties has proposed a 667-foot condominium tower at lower Manhattan’s 45 Park Place. The glass skyscraper, which has yet to break ground, will include at least 15 full-floor units of 3,200 to 3,700 square feet, and average prices higher than $3,000 a square foot, according to plans released to Bloomberg by the developer.

Prices at that level would be at least 13% more than the second-quarter average for new-development listings in the borough, according to Halstead Property Development Marketing. The ultra-luxury focus of the building highlights the newfound allure of lower Manhattan as an upscale destination, yet it comes amid growing concern about an oversupply of apartments for multimillionaire buyers.

“The tower is going to be a market-maker,” Mr. El-Gamal told us. “We’ve perfected a building that’s really going to share in a unique moment.”

Mr. El-Gamal’s original plans for an Islamic center and mosque at the lot—two blocks north of where the former World Trade Center towers stood—ignited a political controversy in 2010. Protesters called it the “Ground Zero mosque” and said its placement near the site of the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history would be an insult to those who were killed there.

Then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the project, citing religious freedom and the rights of private-property owners to develop their land as they see fit. (The former mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.)Downtown Renaissance

The community center plan was shelved in 2011 amid a struggle for financing and Mr. El-Gamal’s choice to seek more community input, he said. Now he’s seeking to take advantage of Manhattan’s luxury-condo boom and a downtown renaissance that has sent home prices up 28 percent since 2012.

The median price of apartments that sold in the area south of Chambers Street this year was $1.15 million, a 6.4 percent increase from all of 2014, according to StreetEasy, a property- data website. In 2012, the lower Manhattan median was $895,530. The area has gained 3,000 residents since that year, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York, a business-improvement group.

For Mr. El-Gamal, it’s been a long road toward building the tower, which is scheduled for completion in 2017. He bought the lot in 2009 for $4.85 million, according to public records. The project has $350 million in preconstruction financing from Madison Realty Capital, and construction loans probably will be in place by the fourth quarter, he said.

The developer anticipates breaking ground before the end of the year, with sales starting in early 2016. The plans and pricing are under review by the state attorney general’s office and aren’t officially approved yet.

“Every day that we’ve been waiting, the market has been getting stronger and showing incredible signs of resilience,” Mr. El-Gamal said. “The appreciation and absorption this market is showing is unprecedented.”

Supply surge

About 5,500 units are being planned or are under construction in the area south of Chambers Street, according to the Downtown Alliance. Elsewhere in Manhattan, developers, including Toll Brothers and HFZ Capital Group’s Ziel Feldman, are shifting toward less-pricey condos because the surge in new units has been priced at levels that only the ultra-wealthy can afford.

“There’s growing concern about the volume of new units coming on line that are targeting a fairly narrow bandwidth,” said Jonathan Miller, president of New York appraiser Miller Samuel. “There are already a number of projects with big units online now, so it might be a little late to the party, especially with the recent trend of unit size reductions to lower the actual asking price.”

Mr. El-Gamal sees a rosier picture of a neighborhood in which a penthouse in the Woolworth tower is listed for $110 million, luxury retailers are opening stores, and such media and technology companies as Conde Nast and Time are relocating. His project will still have a lower price per square foot, on average, than the towers being constructed on midtown’s 57th Street, a corridor that’s been dubbed Billionaire’s Row, he said.

Unobstructed views

The planned 70-story skyscraper, with varying tiers of balconies slightly offset from its core, was designed by Michel Abboud, founder of New York architectural firm SOMA, who likened its silhouette to a “mini condensed New York skyline.” Ismael Leyva Architects is translating Mr. Abboud’s exterior design concepts into floor layouts and detailed construction plans.

Unobstructed views to the north begin at close to 300 feet, above which all the apartments will be full-floor units with private elevators, Mr. Abboud said. Those homes will have 12-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, offering panoramic views of Midtown, the Hudson River, and the Statue of Liberty. Two duplex penthouses will sit on the uppermost floors of the skyscraper.

“The surrounding buildings have these slope-y crowns and spires,” Mr. Abboud said. “We wanted the silhouette of our building to stand out against that background and reflect that it was a residential building.”Pool, Concierge

Amenities aim to evoke a five-star hotel, with a 50-foot swimming pool in the basement, concierge service, and a high- ceilinged private lounge, Mr. Abboud said.

Adjacent to the tower, Soho Properties will build a public plaza connected to a three-story Islamic museum and prayer space to be designed by architect Jean Nouvel, Mr. El-Gamal said.

He estimates that by the time the condo tower opens, the offices at the World Trade Center buildings will be filled with tenants, and retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue will have opened lower Manhattan locations.

“The center of gravity is shifting toward downtown, and we are literally in the heart of this new downtown,” Mr. El-Gamal said. “Once all the scaffolding is down, and once all the office space is leased, this will be the most significant residential neighborhood in New York City.”