December 23, 1973 |
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Real estate developer|
|Known for||Sponsor of Park51|
Sharif El-Gamal (born December 23, 1973) is an American real estate developer. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Soho Properties, a Manhattan-based real estate company. El-Gamal came to international attention in 2010 for his role in the development of Park51 (originally named Cordoba House and sometimes referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque"), a planned Islamic community center and prayer space to be located about two blocks away from the World Trade Center site.
El-Gamal was born in Brooklyn, New York to an Egyptian Muslim father and a Polish Catholic mother on December 23, 1973. His father was a managing director at Chemical Bank. He lived in Brooklyn until age 9 when his mother died. He then followed his father to Liberia and Egypt where he attended the Schutz American School. El-Gamal returned to the United States for college, enrolling in various New York universities but eventually dropping out when he decided to stop pursuing formal education.
El-Gamal first entered real estate in the late 1990s as a residential sales broker but within his first year transitioned to commercial real estate sales. In 2002 he received his real estate broker's license. Before he began buying buildings in 2007 as an owner and developer, El-Gamal worked from 1997 to 2001 as a waiter in two upscale New York City restaurants, Fredericks and Serafina.
For his first real estate purchases in 2007, El-Gamal bought a six apartments building in the Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods of Manhattan. Two of the apartments have outstanding building violating and owe the city money. He manages additional properties in Chelsea and Harlem.
According to the company's website, El-Gamal founded his real estate company Soho Properties in 2003 in order "to focus on commercial real estate capital markets, advisory and retail leasing." El-Gamal's partners in the business are his brother, Samir "Sammy" El-Gamal, and Nour Mousa, the nephew of Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League.
In July 2009, Soho Properties purchased property at 45–47 Park Place, located adjacent to the World Trade Center site, for $4.85 million in cash. Prior to being damaged in the September 11 attacks, the building was a Burlington Coat Factory.
One investor in the transaction was the Cordoba Initiative, a tax-exempt foundation with assets of $20,000. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder and executive director of the not-for-profit Cordoba Initiative and is the spiritual director for the project.
Shortly after the purchase, the property became an active overflow prayer space for the followers Imam Rauf's mosque located in TriBeCa. In May 2010, plans by El-Gamal and Imam Rauf to develop the property into a $100 million, 13 story Islamic community center and prayer space (also referred to as a mosque) ignited national controversy given the building's proximity to Ground Zero, where extremist Muslims killed nearly 3,000 Americans in the September 11 attacks. The project is entitled Park51, was formerly named the Cordoba House and some informally refer to it as the Ground Zero Mosque.
El-Gamal envisions Park51 as "A landmark, an iconic building that will have people come and visit it from around the world." He repeatedly refused calls to move or cancel the project, stating, "This looks like it is going to be the most famous community center in the world." He rejects the controversy over the location of the property, stating it is "nowhere near the World Trade Center site... It is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. In New York City, two blocks is a great distance." Further, he does not hold Islam or Muslims worldwide accountable for the September 11 attacks, asserting, "I did not hold myself or my faith accountable for that tragedy." Viewing the project on historic terms, El-Gamal stated, "This is a defining moment for you and I and the First Amendment, and I see us passing this test as Americans."
In the summer of 2010, while Imam Rauf was outside of the United States, El-Gamal emerged as the public face of the project and portrayed himself, rather than Rauf, as the key force behind the proposed center. This increased speculation over who was behind the project since El-Gamal declined most interview requests and offered few public statements.
El-Gamal is married to Rebekah, a Muslim convert from East Hampton, New York. The couple has two daughters. He currently resides in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan in a $1.1 million apartment. El-Gamal is a member of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Manhattan located in his neighborhood. According to El-Gamal, the JCC served as an inspiration for the Park51 project.
In August 2010, the New York Daily News disclosed El-Gamal's criminal history dating back to 1990. El-Gamal's run-ins with law enforcement range from disorderly conduct and soliciting a prostitute to pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated and attempted petit larceny.
In his most recent arrest in 2005, El-Gamal assaulted a man who was subletting an apartment from his brother, Sammy (one of his two partners in Soho Properties). He reportedly punched the man, breaking his nose and cheekbone. At first, El-Gamal said he did not hit the man but later conceded "his face could have run into my hand." At a deposition for the assault case in 2007, El-Gamal replied "no" when asked if he was ever convicted or pled guilty to a crime, despite his previous arrest record. Additionally, El-Gamal owes more than $227,000 in unpaid real estate taxes which are currently incurring interest.
Regarding his criminal conduct, El Gamal said in a statement to the Daily News, "I regret many things that I did in my youth. I have not always led a perfect life... While I might not be proud of some of my actions in the past, I am extremely proud of the Park51 project and what it will mean to thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and denominations who live in Lower Manhattan."
- Dana Rubenstein (August 17, 2010). "Meet the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Developer". The New York Observer. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Asra Q. Nomani (August 30, 2010). "Rift Imperils Ground Zero Mosque". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Anne Barnard and Christine Haughney (August 27, 2010). "Islamic Center Also Challenges a Young Builder". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- "Revealed: The criminal past of developer who wants to build mosque at Ground Zero". Daily Mail. September 1, 2010.
- Eric Cunningham (August 26, 2010). "Fox News Profiles Sharif el-Gamal, Developer of ‘Ground Zero Mosque’". Mediaite.
- "Who Is The Man Behind The Ground Zero Mosque? « CBS New York- News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of NY". Newyork.cbslocal.com. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "No Answers from Mosque Developer". Myfoxatlanta.com. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "Soho Properties". Soho Properties. Archived from the original on December 30, 2006. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Blumenthal, Ralph (December 9, 2009). "Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Rosett, Claudia (July 30, 2010). "Where In The World Is Imam Feisal?". Forbes. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- "Staff Bios". Cordoba Initiative. July 31, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2010.
- Ray Sanchez (May 26, 2010). "Despite Protests, Mosque Plan Near 9/11 Site Wins Key Vote". ABC News. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- David B. Caruso (September 9, 2010). "Backers of NYC mosque appear divided". Associated Press. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Grace Rauh (August 17, 2010). "Developer Won't Budge On Mosque Location". NY1. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Brian Montopoli (August 30, 2010). ""Ground Zero Mosque" Developer: I Don't Hold Islam Accountable for 9/11 Attacks". CBS News.
- Asra Q. Nomani (August 10, 2010). "A Muslim Questions the Mosque". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 14, 2010.
- "Campbell Brown: Intelligence Agencies Out of Control?; Disaster in the Gulf Day 91 (Transcript)". CNN. July 19, 2010. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- James Fanelli (August 28, 2010). "Park51 developer Sharif El-Gamal has a history of run-ins with the law". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Marcia Kramer (August 30, 2010). "Who Is The Man Behind The Ground Zero Mosque?". CBS New York.