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Islamic Center Developer Eyes Garment District Synagogue

The 83-year-old building to become a hotel and shops, plus a new synagogue

Hannah Dreyfus
February 12, 2014
Garment Center Synagogue. (Mid-Century Mundane)
Garment Center Synagogue. (Mid-Century Mundane)

Sharif El-Gamal, the New York City real estate developer behind controversial plans to build an Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, now has his sights set on the Garment District. Specifically, the Garment Center Synagogue.

Partnering with Murray Hill Properties, El-Gamal is planning to buy, demolish, and rebuild the 83-year old building, located at the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 40th Street, according to the New York Times. The synagogue takes up the first floor of a three-story building currently owned by Parsons the New School for Design. In contract to purchase the building for $61.5 million, El-Gamal intends to raze the structure and replace it with a 23-story retail center and hotel—plus a new synagogue.

“We’re in the process of buying one of the last untouched corners of Times Square,” El-Gamal told the Times, “with an opportunity to secure the future of a synagogue that will serve the Jewish community for decades to come.”

The project would require the Garment Center Synagogue and its 500 members to relocate temporarily in 2017, and congregants would return to their newly renovated home after the ambitious building project is complete.

Founded in 1931, the synagogue began as a respite for Jewish workers in the bustling garment district. Albert A. List, a wealthy industrialist, bought the building in 1975 and gave the synagogue a 99-year lease—at the rate of $1 a year.

“Albert List bailed us out,” synagogue president Arnold H. Brown told the Times.

So were any eyebrows raised on the synagogue board over their new landlord’s involvement with Park51, the ultimately stalled development dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque?” According to Brown, not at all. “If Malcolm X bought it, he’d be our landlord. We have an excellent, ironclad agreement.”

Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.