Following the Bayonne City Council’s 3-1 approval of the Gamal Group East redevelopment plan for the eastern portion of the former Caschem site, redeveloper Ehab “Jimmy” Gamal spoke with the Bayonne Community News about his plans going forward for both portions of the roughly nine acre site at 35 Avenue A.
Gamal clarified that the redevelopment plan that was approved had nothing to do with the western portion of the site. It only had to do with the east side, and was unrelated to what he again told BCN is a now-withdrawn application to construct a 16-story cold-storage warehouse on the western portion of the site submitted prior to both this redevelopment plan and the original, now-defunct Caschem redevelopment plan.
“A lot of people are confused,” Gamal said. “It was a clear application for mid-rises on the east side.”
The plan allows up to six-story mixed-use residential and commercial buildings on the eastern portion of the site between Avenue A and the Bayonne Bridge. A total of 325 units are permitted between the two lots, one between West 2nd Street and Gertrude Street, and the other between Gertrude Street and West 3rd Street.
“We’re going to start the site plan as soon as possible and get the ball rolling,” he said.
In terms of final site plan review for something on the eastern side, a rendering of what he seeks to do has been shown but the final plans are still being drawn up. He said he has gathered a team to do so since the redevelopment plan was approved by the council, and looks to demolish the vacant buildings and begin construction after.
Gamal says redevelopment will alleviate traffic
While there were concerns about traffic that the redevelopment would bring to the site from residents and the planning board, Gamal claims his redevelopment will help alleviate traffic by ensuring employees of the movie studio don’t always need to drive.
“You don’t need an expert to talk about traffic in the area to see what I’m looking to do is reducing traffic,” he said. “The movie studio will have over 2,000 employees. At lunch time, these people will get in the cars and go out on the town to eat lunch and it’s going to be a nightmare. But if I have a restaurant in the building across the street, people will eat there.”
According to Gamal, the rental units are catered toward some of the workers at the film studio, too. That can also lead to the removal of some cars on the road all together if people live there and chose to walk to work, he said.
“The whole 300 units or so are going to be rented by the employees in the movie studio,” he said. “So instead of 2,000 people driving to eat lunch now it’s going to go down to 1,700, or 1,500, or even 1,300 people. It’s going to reduce traffic. We don’t want the people to drive their car all day. We need the cars to be parking at the movie studio, not to go out. We want them to cross the street to each lunch or walk in a nice area, this is going to reduce traffic not impact traffic. That’s my opinion. I spoke to a lot of experts too.”
Political donations unrelated, he claims
Political donations became a topic of discussion when the redevelopment plan was passed, particularly $2,500 donated by Gamal to Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa and another to Team Davis in 2021. Dialogue was prompted when La Pelusa recused himself from voting on the redevelopment plan for what he said was due to his close relationship with two of the owners at the Gamal Group. As a result of this and other campaign donations, all of the 2022 mayoral candidates have promised to enact pay-to-play reforms if elected.
In response to this, Gamal insisted that he was not a redeveloper but a resident with a dream. This is really his first foray into redevelopment, other than his involvement with the redevelopment of the former Nacirema site, following his ownership of a bail bond business.
“I’ve been in Bayonne for 31 years,” he said. “I used to sit down over there, and when the wind blew, my eyes burnt from all the dirt and the chemicals out of Caschem when it was abandoned. My dream is clean this area as a citizen of Bayonne and a resident of 2nd Street.”
Gamal added that residents are allowed to give political donations, which was the context of those donations. Otherwise, the redevelopment was not political in nature.
“There is no political involvement here,” he said. “I donate money like any citizen for election campaigns all the time. And if you look, that was in 2021. It was before I even started doing my application with the planning board. Every citizen in Bayonne has the right to support a politician, but this had nothing to do with cleaning 2nd Street. These are two different subjects.”
What’s next for the western side?
As for the west side of the former Caschem site, Gamal said its fate has not yet been decided. And he is open to input.
“It’s not like I’m in a hole and have to do it now,” he said, emphasizing there was no rush and plenty of time for community input.
The original Caschem redevelopment plan will be reworked based off of what will best serve the community as well as the neighboring film studio. Gamal is going to use the original redevelopment plan to put together something special for the waterfront.
“We’re going to redesign the redevelopment plan so it can be better for the area,” he said.
Gamal echoed City Planner Suzanne Mack, that now that Togus Urban Renewal, LLC and 1888 Studios, LLC have their final site plan for the major motion picture studio approved, it will be easier to draw up a redevelopment plan for the west side of the former Caschem site which directly abuts it. That part of the former Caschem site will be directly north of an access road with parallel parking to the waterfront walkway that will be constructed along the Newark Bay portion of the former Texaco site as part of the 1888 Studios project.
“I was waiting to see where they were going to do the drive through to the walkway, so I can connect to the walkway,” he said. “I want to make everyone happy. Now it’s easier because we already know what the movie studio site will have.”
Site does not need to be cleaned
At recent council meetings, there had been discussion prompted by residents about the need to clean the former Caschem site given its heavy industrial nature. In terms of environmental remediation at the site, specifically on the western portion, Gamal said it is already complete and there is not a single industrial tank left standing.
“There is no environmental issue left,” he said. “Caschem remediated most of the lot before I bought it. I clean up the other tanks and all the environmental issues for other tanks.”
BCN visited the site to confirm what is still standing is largely concrete and rubble. There were no tanks to be seen, just the remnants of the former industrial buildings at the site.
“Everyone keeps saying it’s an environmental hazards due to the tanks over there,” he said. “There is not even one tank left. I cleaned up everything. Almost everything is gone. It’s just concrete now that needs to be crushed.”
According to Gamal, he completed the remediation at the site prior to any approvals by the planning board or city council. He said that this was a risk, but he was adamant about cleaning the site to better the city.
“I wasn’t going to let the city get affected from all the chemicals going with the wind and everything,” he said, noting his two kids make up many who live in the area and would be affected by the site. “This is proof to the people I’m doing this from my heart. No developer will spend $10 million to clean up an environmentally contaminated lot like this without even having the approval.”
Big dreams for west side of former Caschem
Gamal reiterated that he lived in the area and wanted to clean the site for not only his benefit, but also the benefit of the city. He said is was a resident, a member of the local Coptic Orthodox Community, and simply looking to better Bayonne for his family, his neighbors, and the entire city.
“I am citizen of Bayonne too,” he said. “I love Bayonne. I’m not only a redeveloper. I live on 2nd Street. I dream of cleaning up 2nd Street to make it even better. My dream is for the end of Avenue A is to be a village seaport, something really nice for the city.”
Gamal’s not sure exactly what he will propose for the western site, but one dream is to build a senior center. And it could even be worked into the east side too.
“That’s my dream,” he said. “I used to design it on the west side as a big huge one. But I don’t know now. If it doesn’t happen on the west side, I will try to fit it on the east side.”
If it can’t be done at the former Caschem site, Gamal will look elsewhere in the city to build his senior center within Bayonne. It is one of his redevelopment goals in the city.
“And if not there, I am going to look for another area,” he said. “I want to do this for my city.”
Whether it be a senior center, a mixed-use residential commercial building, a hotel, a marina, a waterfront restaurant, a potential ferry stop, and or a mixture of these and other uses, Gamal is looking to gather more public input soon prior to moving forward with a redevelopment plan. He plans on putting something together in the future that will activate the area for pedestrians as part of the planned surrounding “entertainment district.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.