Developer Aims to Turn Waterfront Into the ‘Riviera’

By Gary Buiso

The southern portion of the borough could one day be transformed into a playground for the rich and hydrophilic, if a local developer’s grand plans come to fruition. “I am going to change the entire coastline of Brooklyn—it will never be the same,” Stephen Jemal, president of SSJ Development, LLC told this paper last week. Jemal said he intends to construct luxury waterfront housing in Gerristen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Bergen Beach, Bensonhurst and Mill Basin. His company’s first project calls for the construction of luxury homes at the site of the former Bergen Beach Yacht Club, along Mill Basin at East 66th street and Dakota Place. The $20 million project calls for the construction of 10 three-story homes that will range in size from 2,500 to 3,200 square feet. Each of the homes will have its own boat slip, connecting residents to the water. The 46,144-square-foot site was sold by Massey Knakal Realty Services in an all cash transaction valued at $6.3 million. Pre-construction prices on the homes begin at $1.7 million, Jemal said. Construction is expected to begin this summer, and span one year. The community of homes, when completed, will be known as The Riviera Estates at Mill Basin. The project may proceed without any special permits or variances, as it is within the zoning established for this section of the borough. “I don’t want to upset the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said. “The zoning really indicates single family homes there,” he said. Saul Needle, the president of the Mill Island Civic Association, said the homes would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. “This will maintain the value of existing homes as opposed to the multi-story developments which detract from the bucolic and rustic nature of our community,” Needle said. State Senator Carl Kruger, a local lawmaker not shy about blasting what he considers inappropriate development, had only good things to say about SSJ’s Mill Basin project. “It’s consistent with the current property values of [existing] homes on the water,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the community and should be a win for developers.” Jemal said he would soon unveil specifics about his other Brooklyn ventures. “I have an unbelievable vision and a world class team of the finest and most proficient professionals out there,” he said. SSJ Development has been active most recently in Cape May, NJ, where he is hoping to construct 24-townhouses. Early last month, the city’s planning board recently tabled SSJ’s application, citing environmental concerns. SSJ, based in Midwood, has developed more than six million square feet of shopping centers and office space in the northeast corridor over the past 30 years. The company has a host of components to its Riviera brand, including: estates, townhouses, and condominiums. Jemal said his company also converts existing properties to residential use. Jemal’s family founded Nobody Beats the Wiz, the electronics chain that filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997. He headed development, site selection and construction for the New Jersey-based outfit. Working 25 years at his family’s company helped “sharpen my teeth,” he said. Jemal, along with his brothers Douglas, Lawrence, and Marvin, attempted to purchase the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. The family initially bid $150 million in cash for the team, but withdrew their bid. Jemal, 44, said he is an avid water skier whose affinity for Brooklyn’s waterfront is strong. “I love Brooklyn and I love the waterfront, but I see a lot of neglected and blighted waterfront in Brooklyn, and I’m capitalizing on that.” “I’m a waterfront revivalist,” he said. For the past seven years, the developer said, he’s embarked on a “very under the radar” quest to assemble the pieces that would enable him to see his vision through. “I’m a workaholic,” he said. “I eat, breathe, and sleep Riviera,” he added. Soon, Jemal’s ‘Riviera’ brand name might be as common to a Brooklynite as ‘Côte d’Azur’ is to a Frenchman. He’s banking on it.

More from Around New York