Times Square Margaritaville left synagogue ‘homeless,’ suit says


(New York Jewish Week) — A synagogue is suing the developer of the Margaritaville Resort in Times Square, saying he reneged on a promise to house the synagogue in the new entertainment complex and left it “homeless.” 

According to a lawsuit filed last week, developer Sharif El Gamal had initially promised to find a new home for the Garment Center Congregation after demolishing its former home to make way for the new 32-story, 170,000-square-foot hotel that opened last year, Crain’s New York reported. 

In its complaint, the congregation said that El Gamal “has intentionally withheld or delayed performing its obligations in the hopes that the congregation’s temporary dislocation would result in depletion or death of its membership, collapse of its community and cessation of its religious and social activities, thereby no longer requiring the new synagogue at 560 Seventh Avenue.” 

The synagogue had a 99-year lease in the former building, with an annual rent of $1, which was a donation from Albert List, a congregant who built the earlier complex.

The lease agreement said that if the landlord of the property were to demolish it, it would need to include space for the synagogue in any new project that is built in its place, according to the suit.  

In 2013, Gamal purchased the building for $61.5 million and inherited the synagogue’s lease agreement.  

In negotiations with the synagogue, they settled on a project that would include a 300-seat sanctuary, a 75-seat chapel for daily services, a kosher kitchen, a community room and small terrace for a sukkah.  

In October 2021, El Gamal revealed a proposal for a space that was 50% smaller.

“It was down to 179 seats from 300, and it did not include equipment or amenities,” the lawsuit says. 

El Gamal also tried to buy the synagogue out of its lease agreement, but the complaint alleged that numerous delays and “stall tactics” have led the congregation to believe that the developer does not want to reach an agreement.  

When the building was knocked down, El Gamal offered space to the synagogue at 1384 Broadway. In a previous lawsuit, filed in September 2020, the landlord there, Chetrit Group, alleged that El Gamal failed to vacate the synagogue at the end of that lease and cost them $500,000 in late rent.  

The Chetrit Group demanded El Gamal pay more than $1 million in back rent and the synagogue began vacating the premises. A notice its website says, “All daily services are currently canceled until further notice.”

El Gamal previously bragged in that he would be the first Muslim in New York to build a synagogue.  

“It sets a real example of the cooperation and the brotherhood and the coexistence that has always existed between us,” Gamal said at the time.  

Margaritaville is part of singer Jimmy Buffet’s chain of tropical-themed resorts, and includes 234 guestrooms, five restaurants and bars and a street-level Margaritaville retail store.

El Gamal and the Garment Center Congregation did not respond to a request for a comment.