Southern Brooklyn

Daily News Cozies Up to Riviera Developer


(Stephen Jemal assumes the position for a Daily News writer. -Courtesy of Daily News)

Daily News recently published a piece on developer Stephen S. Jemal, “the man who made Nobody Beats the Wiz electronic stores the 13th most recognizable brand in the United States”, and also the guy behind the three Riviera developments in southern Brooklyn. All I’ve got to say is, holy crap – what the hell, Daily News?! The story is so flattering to Jemal and his developments, a full-fledged bow-down we’re-not-worthy ass-kissing, that I really have to wonder if Daily News is priming its real estate pages for some sweet advertising from Jemal’s company, SSJ Development, and its Riviera brand.

First up, there’s this really ridiculous lead: “This is the biggest real estate vision the South Brooklyn waterfront may ever see.” Really? Are we talking about the same waterfront that once was called Brooklyn’s Gold Coast, and saw such massive “visions” realized as the Coney Island Jockey Club, the Sheepshead Bay Speedway, the Manhattan Beach Hotel, the Oriental Hotel – and that’s just in the Bay, not the rest of the South Brooklyn waterfront. Jemal might be doing sizable deals, but he’s no Austin Corbin.

Then there’s the real heart-warming parts of the article – Jemal boating around the coast like some modern day adventurer – or conquistador – and picking out his future prizes; or his efforts to “give back” to the community by simply working within established zoning laws:

“I consider this waterfront cleansing to be community service,” says Jemal, who handled real estate development for the Wiz. “In some of these areas, you can approach from a car and hit a dead end and have no idea water is even there.” [Apparently, driving up to a condo’s wall screams ‘WATER!’ – SB]

When it comes to cost, Jemal thinks he also gives back to the community. His projects in Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach, totaling almost 500 units, will be built in the same height scale as the rest of the neighborhood and will be sold for prices he hopes are affordable to the neighborhood’s middle class.

The article goes on to call him a “genius”, to drool over the boat slips, idealize his environmental cleanups, glow about his “passion”, wax poetic on his personal and home life, and so forth. Even the photo seems to say, “Sure, I may look like Skeletor, but don’t you want to reach into my unbuttoned shirt?” This may be assuming too much, but the come-hither, leg up position may have been an invitation, presumably accepted, for the Daily News writer.

Let me pause for a second, before things get really heated. I’m no development naysayer. I have nothing against Jemal. In fact, I know surprisingly little about his work, and from what I read of his plans, they’re not nearly as terrible, destructive or garish as some of the other work going on in the area. My problem here is with the Daily News. To the residents of Brooklyn’s southern coast, development is one of the top issues. It’s not to be taken lightly. But, unfortunately, the press too often serves as the number one cheerleader for the developers.

As for Jemal himself, we already know some of the concerns with his plans. Almost all are still to be resolved, and I wish the Daily News had taken the opportunity to confront the developer about them. But the only criticism in the article itself came from CB15 chairperson Theresa Scavo, whose name they spelled wrong, and whose concerns about site cleanup were dismissed by a quote from the developer. Some extra consideration by the reporter or editor would’ve been nice here.

So, Daily News, why don’t we take off the skirt and pompoms, and please – PLEASE – ask some hard questions of this guy and his ilk.

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