Jimmy Gamal is a Bayonne resident and owner of the former Caschem site at 35 Avenue A, both the eastern and western portions. Gamal says while he submitted plans for a 16-story cold-storage warehouse on the portion of the site west of Avenue A, he is only exploring the option and does not plan to present anything yet for final site plan review.
“I just filed a preliminary site plan to get an idea,” he said. “I’m only focused on the six-floor [redevelopments] on the other side.”
On the portion of the site on the eastern side of Avenue A, Gamal is seeking two six-story mixed use residential and commercial buildings. One building would be between West 2nd Street and Gertrude Street, and the other between Gertrude Street and West 3rd Street.
“I’m doing something six-story like in Weehawken,” he said. “This eats at my profits, so I’m not like a regular developer.”
In fact, Gamal is not a redeveloper at all, this being is first foray into redevelopment. He is, rather, a resident with an idea.
“I’ve been living in Bayonne for 31 years,” he said. “It is one of my dreams to clean the Caschem site, with all the dirt and offending chemical stuff over there.”
Luxury apartments on east side
Gamal said that the goal is to offer luxury apartments and amenities within walking distance of the proposed film studio at the nearby former Texaco site.
“It can serve the movie studio,” he said. “The movie studio is going to see over 2,000 people every day. And it’s not only going to have private cars, it’s going to have tractor trailers, trucks, and everything.”
The idea would be for the commercial space at the six-story structures on the east side of Avenue A to be within walking distance of the employees of the movie studio and reduce traffic in the area, according to Gamal.
“At lunch time, 2,000 people are hungry,” he said. “They’re going to move around the town in their cars. There’s going to be a lot of traffic to go eat lunch. If I build the six-floor buildings with 25 stores, I’m going to have apartments for the people working over there, I’m going to have lunch and shopping for them, everything. So the traffic will be less, not more.”
Redevelopment plan up for review
Gamal said the six-story buildings were not high-rises and featured many setbacks, but needed to be that tall because three stories was “not buildable.”
“I’m not doing a high-rise six-story, I’m doing it like stairs,” he said. “I’ve already seen some models in New York and Weehawken and I want to try to do something luxury.”
The desire to construct a six-story structure is what prompted the new redevelopment plan for that portion of the site, which previously capped the height at three stories. Gamal said that the consistency review for the Gamal Group East redevelopment plan set for the January meeting of the Bayonne Planning Board was only regarding this part of the former Caschem site.
That meeting was cancelled due to multiple resignations by planning board members and other members testing positive for COVID-19. The redevelopment plan may be heard at what will likely be a virtually meeting of the planning board in February. Additionally, litigation against the city involving the public hearing for the old redevelopment plan has seemingly made things more complicated.
“I’m only focused on the six-floor [buildings] on the east side, not the west side,” he said. “I’m focused on cleaning it up and making it nice for the movie studio so they can have my service. The west side is still open.”
Plans still undecided for west side
Gamal hasn’t decided what he wants to do yet with the west side. Some city officials have said that the warehouse plan was intended as a way to get support for the increase in height to six stories for the buildings on the east side.
“The warehouse, it was just an idea to see what’s going on,” he said. “But we all agree to sit down, me and my neighbor, and see what’s best for the movie studio, for me and for the city.”
Other ideas apart from the high-rise cold-storage warehouse include a hotel, senior center, and waterfront plaza, among others, Gamal said.
“I’m more than happy to do the hotel and the plaza more than the warehouse,” he said. “But it’s a work in progress. I’m okay to sit down with the movie studio and see what’s good for them and what’s good for the town.”
Gamal also thinks a senior center would be a great addition in that location.
“My dream is also to build a senior citizen center over there,” he said. “It’s a lot of options, it’s not only the 16-floor freezer. I just happened to explore this because it’s one of the options we have. There is no decision yet on what is being done in the west side. I’m only focused on demolition now.”
Bulldozing old buildings on site
Gamal said he decided to start demolition now on the whole site, prior to any approvals, to clean it up.
“I decided to spend millions of dollars because I know this lot is dirty and I don’t want to spread it in the town for my kids, for all the kids in town, and for everyone,” he said. “It’s not like the other side, which is clean and nice and is ready to be built on. So I decided to take a big hit and start demolition.”
Demolition on both sides of the site is in progress, according to Gamal.
“I’m almost done,” he said. “A couple more months and it will be cleaned up and a flat grade lot, better than all the abandoned chemical companies that were there before.”
After this, then Gamal said he is open to anything when it comes to the west side of the site.
“We already have a channel with our neighbors,” he said, indicating a desire to work with the owners of the Texaco site, Togus Urban Renewal, regarding their proposed movie studio.
Despite Gamal’s undecided detentions for the west side of the site, the warehouse plans had become the talk of the town due to a flier circulating among residents regarding the plans among a number of other claims.
Gamal responds to flier
Gamal again said the east and west side of the site are two separate projects. He said he doesn’t want the six-story buildings that would be permitted under the proposed Gamal Group East redevelopment plan to suffer due to plans for the other side of the former Caschem site outside of the plan. Gamal reiterated that he is only currently demolishing the lot and cleaning it up now, not seeking plans for anything yet.
“I feel they are attacking me for no reason,” Gamal said. “For me to build over there, of course I need to make it nice, but I’m looking to do what’s best for the town and what’s best for me. I’m not selfish to think about myself only.”
Additionally, Gamal said he was not trying to get in the middle of any politics.
“I don’t know why they added political supporter, it was a big mistake,” Gamal said. “I don’t know where they get this. They’re lying and it’s not true and I feel it was not fair to be in public against me.”
Gamal reiterated that he is not a redeveloper. He added that he walked away from purchasing the Texaco site, with the intention to construct residential units there, to allow for the movie studio by Togus Urban Renewal.
“I’m a citizen of Bayonne,” Gamal said. “I live on 2nd Street and I’m so hurt for all the dirty areas over there. I’m dreaming to clean it up and build some nice stuff.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.