Civil rights group plans big building for housing, headquarters and a museum about The Struggle. But locals are worried about their own struggle.
A world renowned civil rights group’s plan to turn a row of small businesses in Harlem into a lustrous new headquarters and black history museum would trample on the very small business owners whose life stories could themselves be in the museum, foes say.
The plan by the National Urban League – backed by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg – would replace an underutilized parking lot and a string of businesses on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards with a 400,000-square-foot, $225 million complex comprising a new HQ for the progressive group, housing, the city’s first civil rights museum, and retail space for national chain stores.
But it’s all built on the backs of some longtime businessmen and women who staked their lives on the once-seedy strip.
“These are decent hard-working entrepreneurs who have invested in this neighborhood when no one else would … and now they’re going to be treated like used Dixie cups?” said state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem).
The business owners say they were offered help to relocate and were invited to apply for a $250,000 loan, but they don’t want to leave.
“It was a blessing for us thinking we made it to 125th St., our mecca,” said Joseph “Joe Fish” Benbow, manager of the family-owned restaurant Fishers of Men II, which opened on the Main Street of Black America six years ago. “My dream was to be here and finish the race with my family.”