Council Approves Harlem African Burial Ground

The Harlem African Burial Ground, affordable housing, and commercial space will replace the 126th Street Bus Depot.

On September 27, 2017, City Council approved the 126th Street Bus Depot redevelopment by a vote of 42-0. The land use application, by NYC Economic Development Corporation, includes a zoning map amendment, zoning text amendment, city map change, and future disposition of city-owned property. This action will facilitate the development of affordable housing, commercial space, and the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial. For CityLand’s coverage on the prior stages of the project’s ULURP process, click here.

On September 5, 2017, at the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions meeting, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito described the project’s history. This project is “the culmination of almost a decade of work.” SELRES_7b87e16a-b7e2-4613-9752-ba9d8640fdc6Reverend Patricia Singletary SELRES_7b87e16a-b7e2-4613-9752-ba9d8640fdc6from the Elmendorf Reformed Church wanted “to properly memorialize her church’s historic African burial ground underneath the 126th Street Bus Depot, which had been forgotten, built upon and disrespected for almost 200 years.” Reverend Singletary approached Speaker Mark-Viverito in 2009, who then helped the Reverend form a group of local stakeholders—community members, city agencies, archaeologists, urban planners, architects, historians—to create the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force “to advocate for the reclamation, preservation and recognition of this sacred cemetery.” Speaker Mark-Viverito commended the efforts of Reverend Singletary and the Harlem Burial Ground Task Force, especially in their ability “to persevere when no one believed the history that they had uncovered.”

18,000 square feet in the Harlem African Burial Ground will be accessible to the public. The Harlem African Burial Ground will also contain an outdoor memorial and an indoor cultural educational center, which must be maintained in perpetuity. The City will work with the developer to ensure the memorial’s future through financial commitment. Speaker Mark-Viverito stated, “The developer will be required to provide an annual contribution of approximately $1 million to support eligible operating costs. The indoor and outdoor spaces will be provided to the memorial operator free of charge.” 20% of the housing units, available at market-rate, will also contribute to the cost of the memorial’s operation. The Speaker added, “The commitments being made today will ensure the history that Reverend Singletary and the task force have rediscovered will never be forgotten again.”

The project will also produce affordable housing. The Council modified the zoning text amendment to apply the deep affordability option instead of Option 2 for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. 80% of the 730 housing units will be affordable. Half of the units will be affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Average Median Income (“AMI”). 20% of all housing units will be affordable for households earning a maximum of 30% AMI ($25,770 annual income).

Lastly, the redevelopment will produce commercial space. The commercial development has been capped at 138,000 square feet to accommodate the affordable housing demand. The developer will be required to support job training, create a targeted hiring outreach plan, and work with the Economic Development Corporation to meet these local hiring goals.

The application with modifications—ensuring 18,000 square feet of public space and amending the zoning text to reach the deepest affordability levels—unanimously passed through both the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions and the Committee on Land Use. The City Council honored the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force at the September 27th meeting for “their stellar service and enduring contributions to East Harlem and all of New York City” before unanimously approving the modified land use applications for the project. The site is integral in honoring the story and culture of those who helped build this City and nation.  

CC: 126th Street Bus Depot (LU 0733-2017; LU 0734-2017; LU 0735-2017; LU 0736-2017) (Sept. 27, 2017).

By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)


Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Harlem Landmark Is Reborn From the Base of the Old Corn Exchange Bank

Another 80-story building here or there? Yawn.

A seven-story building at Park Avenue and 125th Street? Now, that’s astonishing.

What makes it astonishing is that a productive end seems near for a dispiriting tale that goes back to the 1970s, when the ruddy former Corn Exchange Bank at 81 East 125th Street — “one of the most impressive buildings in Harlem,” in the words of the Landmarks Preservation Commission — was taken over by the city and largely vacated.

By mid-2015, the reborn Corn Exchange, developed by Artimus Construction at a cost of $14 million, will be open to retail and office tenants. The building is an entirely new steel-frame structure set within and rising over the 19th-century masonry base, which is all that remains of the original after years of troubles, fire, decay and gravity.

The depredation of the old Corn Exchange Bank has not only been an assault on Harlem’s well-being. It has also sent a powerful message of despair to the thousands who pass by the site every day on the Metro-North Railroad.

Among the distinctive features of the new office building will be projecting window bays, echoing those of the original. “The work, while not an exact replica of the historic building, will evoke the character and level of detailing of the historic facades,” the landmarks commission said in 2013, when it granted approval to the Artimus project, designed by Danois Architects. (The permit can be read on the CityAdmin website.)

An 1893 photo of the former Mount Morris Bank Building, later known as the Corn Exchange Bank Building, at 81 East 125th Street in Harlem.

An 1893 photo of the former Mount Morris Bank Building, later known as the Corn Exchange Bank Building, at 81 East 125th Street in Harlem.

“It provides something the Harlem business community has been asking for,” said Kyle Kimball, president of the city Economic Development Corporation, who is among the higher ranking holdovers from the Bloomberg administration. The corporation is overseeing the Corn Exchange project, having sold the property to Artimus for $500,000.

Constructed in 1883 as headquarters of the Mount Morris Bank, the Queen Anne-style building symbolized the growing importance of Harlem. But Mount Morris was taken over in 1913 by the Corn Exchange Bank, founded by former members of the Corn Exchange. After 30 years as a bank headquarters, the structure was demoted to a branch.

Chemical Bank swallowed up Corn Exchange in 1954. The new company was briefly called the Chemical Corn Exchange Bank and referred to by The New York Times as “Chemical Corn,” which sounds like something made by Monsanto. Or Brach’s.

After Chemical closed the branch around 1965, tenants included the Samuel Temple Church of God in Christ. The city acquired the property in 1972 for nonpayment of taxes.

In the 1980s, a day-care center was in the banking hall. John Reddick, an architect newly graduated from Yale, thought about living upstairs. “It was derelict, but looked habitable,” he said. The superintendent led him to the top floor — step by step. “The elevator had just crashed to the basement, literally,” Mr. Reddick recalled. “He said, ‘We’ll fix that.’ The upper floor was loft space. The view was just spectacular.”


Continue reading

It’s Harlem of the future — Bloomberg style

Mayor envisions destinations for tourists, tech geeks and science nerds.  Residents and some pols fear more gentrification.

Is this a scene from the Meatpacking District? No, it’s how the intersection Amsterdam Ave. near W. 125th St. will look within the next decade, according to developer Janus Property Company.

Is this a scene from the Meatpacking District? No, it’s how the intersection Amsterdam Ave. near W. 125th St. will look within the next decade, according to developer Janus Property Company.

A new “Grand Central Station” for Harlem. A biotech center. A jazz museum. A  new home for a national civil rights organization. A massive brewery and  pub.

It’s all part of Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for 125th St. — circa 2025.

The Bloomberg administration hand-picked developers to move into empty  city-owned eyesores in hopes of turning the Main Street of Black America into a  cross between Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s chic Meatpacking District.
The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

Mega-developer Scott Metzner, head of Janus Property Company, beat out 16  competitors in the bidding war for one of the biggest projects — converting the  dilapidated 280,000-square-foot former Taystee Bakery factory into a new-age  home for startups, eateries and shops.

“It’s Harlem’s turn to move into the 21st century,” said Metzner.

Janus is spending around $500 million on 11 buildings between Amsterdam Ave.  and Morningside Ave. — part of an effort to turn west Harlem’s so-called  “Factory District” into a mini-Dumbo.

“For the first time in 100 years this will be an active neighborhood again,”  Metzner said.

The Metro-North station on 125th St. is a mess. The city envisions a “Grand Central Station” for uptown.

The Metro-North station on 125th St. is a mess. The city envisions a “Grand Central Station” for uptown.

The “Factory District” idea came from a 2008 rezoning of the 125th St.  allowing the construction of towering condo and office buildings in lieu of  low-rise mom-and-pop shops.

Then the city’s Economic Development Corporation decided which abandoned  properties could serve as upper Manhattan’s startup meccas.

“Harlem’s growth and evolution will ensure it becomes one of New York City’s  premier destinations for generations to come,” said Economic Development  Corporation President Kyle Kimball. “The arts, culture, science and industrial  sectors of Harlem will continue to thrive.”

Continue reading

Patience for Reopening Latino Cultural Space Is Gone

Two spaces inside the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center, a city-owned building in East Harlem, have been closed for over 18 months.

Two spaces inside the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center, a city-owned building in East Harlem, have been closed for over 18 months.

The Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, a city-owned building in East Harlem, has long been an important hub for the neighborhood’s Latino population. Named after a renowned Puerto Rican poet, the five-story building served as a place for local artists to showcase their work and residents to gather to celebrate birthdays, hold funerals, discuss community affairs and dance salsa.

“It was about all of us coming together,” said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a group dedicated to preserving East Harlem’s culture and history. Ms. Ortiz said she used to visit the center regularly for almost 20 years, before New York City officials closed a large multipurpose space and theater there over a year and a half ago for renovation and to find a new operator.

Eugene Rodriguez, who lives in East Harlem, is part of a protest campaign to try to pressure the city into reopening the spaces.

Eugene Rodriguez, who lives in East Harlem, is part of a protest campaign to try to pressure the city into reopening the spaces.

“It was torn out from under us,” she said, adding that her efforts to determine why it was taking so long to reopen the two rooms had been futile. Other parts of the center remain in use, but work has not even begun on the renovation.

Having grown frustrated, a coalition of community leaders and artists plan to stage a series of street performances as a form of protest outside the Julia de Burgos center, starting Wednesday, to pressure the city.

“It’s not about one show; it’s about no show,” said Eugene Rodriguez, a playwright and longtime resident of East Harlem who is leading the effort. “Latino artists have no access to Latino institutions in the neighborhood. It kills me. It really kills me.”

Mr. Rodriguez, 65, swallowed, looked away and started to cry.

City officials contend the changes will benefit the neighborhood and local cultural groups. But many residents and activists say they view the delay as part of the marginalization of East Harlem’s working-class Latino population and the city’s disinterest in preserving the Puerto Rican identity of a neighborhood undergoing a slow but steady gentrification.

Continue reading

Developers Are Making Bets on a Rising East Harlem

Sharon Kahen and his partner Haim Levi are making a multimillion-dollar bet on East Harlem. The developers recently closed on a vacant parcel at 119th Street and Third Avenue where they plan to build a 60-unit market-rate rental building.

The developer Sharon Kahen at the CL Tower on East 121st Street in Harlem. He and his partner just bought another Harlem parcel, on 119th Street.

The developer Sharon Kahen at the CL Tower on East 121st Street in Harlem. He and his partner just bought another Harlem parcel, on 119th Street.

“In the next five years, we will invest $75 million to connect East Harlem to the Upper East Side,” said Mr. Kahen, who, along with Mr. Levi, built the CL Tower at 203 East 121st Street in 2011. “We started at 121st Street; now we are doing a project at 119th Street, and we plan to continue moving south.”

Demand from students who attend Hunter College’s newly opened Silberman School of Social Work at 119th Street, along with residents displaced by increasing rents on the Upper East Side, are driving developers to build more housing in East Harlem. Continue reading

Harlem gas station owner says city can’t develop his land: lawsuit

A longtime Harlem entrepreneur has a message for the city: Hands off my business!

Carmie Elmore, 67, and a partner took over the gas station at the corner of 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in 1981, when shootings, robberies and drugs ruled the neighborhood.

OIL CHANGE: Carmie Elmore says the city is trying to take back the gas station he and his family have run since 1981.

OIL CHANGE: Carmie Elmore says the city is trying to take back the gas station he and his family have run since 1981.

Now that Harlem is blooming, the city has put developers on notice, asking for ideas to build on the property — even though the city hasn’t owned it for years.

The city’s power play would put more than 20 people out of work.

“They didn’t want it when it was in such terrible disarray over there, and now that things are good, they want to take it and do something different with it,” Elmore told The Post. “I understand what they want, but I know it’s not right, and I know it’s not fair, and that’s why we’re fighting it.”

The owners argue in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed last week that the city has no right to the property, and are asking a judge to declare them the sole owners.

Elmore, who now runs the business with the sons of his original partner after the latter died in a boating accident, bought the property under a community-renewal plan that gave the city the right to repurchase the plot.

But that right expired in 2008, Elmore said, a point the city has ignored.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation began seeking ideas for the property in June, looking for a mix of retail and residential development.

“They just pretended it was still in effect,” Elmore said of the repurchase agreement. “I’ll fight them to the end.”

A Law Department spokeswoman said the city “strongly disputes” Elmore’s claims, and that the city is reviewing the court papers.The gas station is one of the few left in Manhattan.The business includes a car repair shop, a convenience store, and employs 21 people.

Elmore and his co-owner operated on a month-to-month lease for 15 years before buying the property and spending more than $1 million on improvements.

When they started, “the amount of robberies and terrible things — shootings on the corner, and drugs galore on 111th Street — was just horrific, and today it’s just a normal atmosphere,” Elmore said. “There are no major problems, a lot of new neighbors have moved in, a lot of new buildings have sprung up.

“It’s night-and-day. It is absolutely night-and-day . . . We made the decision to come here when no one else wanted it, and we’ve been there for a little over 30 years, and we want to stay.”

Read more:

Theater at East Harlem’s Julia de Burgos Cultural Center Gets New Operator

Taller Boricua co-founder Fernando Salicrup outside the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.

HARLEM—The city’s Economic Development Corporation picked two local East Harlem groups and a national Latino organization to operate an underutilized theater at the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.

The Julio de Burgos Arts Alliance will be comprised of the East River North Renewal, which hosts live music and domino tournaments at La Marqueta; Los Pleneros de la 21, a performing arts group that already rents space at the center; and the national organization, The Hispanic Federation, which provides grants to Latino nonprofits.

The groups will reactivate the 2,800-square-foot theater and multi-purpose space at the center, located at East 106th Street and Lexington Avenue, by providing programming and opening the space up for use by community groups, EDC President Seth Pinsky told DNAinfo on Monday.

“What we ended up with will be a huge benefit to East Harlem,” Pinksy said. “Upper Manhattan and East Harlem has a vibrant cultural scene. The fact that this theater was dark for a long period is unfortunate. The community is excited.”

The new consortium will provide 1,700 hours of programming at the center during the first year, including more than 700 hours in the theater space.

The announcement comes a year after a controversial decision by EDC to not renew the lease on the space with Taller Boricua, which translates to “Puerto Rican Workshop.”

The beloved 40-year-old arts organization was not fully utilizing the space and did not have clear guidelines for renting the space out to community groups, said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito.

Taller Boricua founders Fernando Salicrup and Nitza Tufiño said the loss of the space would crush the organization.

They still maintain space in the cultural center.

However, the theater needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs such as soundproofing. That was one of the reasons it was not always programmed, Salicrup and Tufiño said.

They also said they charged groups based on what the organizations could afford to pay, but they had to cover $50,000 per year in rent to the city and $20,000 in insurance costs.

Members of Community Board 11 and other local leaders criticized the EDC’s process, saying Taller Boricua was not given a chance to explain the situation or make any changes.

“It’s really clear that it was an undemocratic and untransparent process that reflects politics as usual,” said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a neighborhood advocacy group.

She was also concerned that the involvement of a national organization, the Hispanic Federation, removed the influence of local groups such as Taller Boricua which fought for the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center to be created for the community.

“With La Marqueta, 125th Street, East River Plaza and the Corn Exchange we have huge parcels of land being turned over to outside entities. Our community is being parceled out bit by bit,” said Ortiz.

Mark-Viverito disagreed with the assesment about Taller Boricua being left out.

“The leadership of Taller Boricua never reached out to me as a local elected official to seek assistance — financial or otherwise — at any point along the way in this process or prior to this process being initiated,” she said.

Taller Boricua was also free to respond to EDC’s proposal request, said Mark-Viverito.

“I believe that the consortium selected has a fantastic proposal, including a strong community access plan, that will ensure that this building becomes the vibrant, active cultural space it was always meant to be,” said Mark-Viverito.

She said the Hispanic Federation will provide a “solid organizational base” for the effort as it has done with other ventures. The Hispanic Federation helped to launch the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance in 2007.

“The Federation has stepped up to help incubate this alliance and provide technical assistance, as it’s done for many other ventures in our communities,” said Mark-Viverito. “I believe this is a model that will work and will provide a strong foundation on which to build to ensure the future viability of the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.”

Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington said in a statement he hopes the new agreement will “ensure that fair and equal access is granted to all potential users.”

Pinsky said the EDC worked closely with the community to gain their feedback during the selection process.

City capital funds will be made available to make repairs to the theater, said Pinsky. The new consortium will also be able to produce more revenue and reduce the gap between the center’s operating costs and the subsidy the city has to provide to cover the shortfall.

The group has agreed to a five-year lease with an option to renew for another five years.

Read more:

Citarella Eviction From Disputed Harlem Site Upheld by Court

HARLEM — A court has upheld the city’s eviction of gourmet grocery chain Citarella from the former Taystee Bakery site on West 125th Street in Harlem.

The city filed suit against the high-end grocery chain, saying it failed to fulfill its agreement to develop warehouse space when the property was purchased for $850,000 in 1999. The city won its case last year and earned the right to evict the chain from the space it has occupied since 2005, but Citarella owner Joseph Guerra appealed the ruling to the State Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, confident that it would win the new case, had already issued requests for expressions of interest to develop the property in November.

“We are pleased the court has upheld this decision,” said EDC spokesman Kyle Sklerov. “We are still reviewing responses to the request for expressions of interest and we look forward to activating that site as soon as possible.”

The chain, which was purportedly developing a multi-use facility, vacated the store on April 18, stripping it clean of all equipment. Outside, it posted a sign saying that it would be “abandoning its attempt at developing affordable housing at the former Taystee Bakery property, because of a lack of municipal support for that project.”

“It was a pleasure to serve the Harlem community and we are disappointed to leave,” the note continued.

Citarella representatives did not respond to a request for comment. The store has three other locations in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, Upper East Side and Greenwich Village. The court proceedings have yet to conclude and city officials believe the store is likely to appeal the most recent ruling.

The former Taystee Bakery site is a six-building, 134,000-square-foot complex located at 461 W. 125th St. and 426-458 W. 126th St. Recent proposed zoning changes to the area may make it possible for residential housing to be built on the West 126th Street side of the project.

Community Board 9 chair Larry English demanded a say in choosing the new developer, calling the site one of the most crucial developments in West Harlem.

EDC president Seth Pinsky agreed to work more closely with a task force from the community board but denied them final say on the project, saying it might cause conflicts of interest and would set a bad precedent and clog projects in the pipeline.

English said that EDC is in the process of paring down five of the remaining 16 submissions to three finalists. The board’s executive committee is meeting with EDC this month to hear about the three finalists.

EDC has discussed only the nature of the project with the task-force, leaving out details on the names of developers and any financial arrangements. Some CB 9 board members criticized the upcoming meeting, saying it should be “more transparent.”

However, English says EDC has allowed the CB 9 task-force to provide “lots of input.”

“It’s not a perfect process but its moving forward. I wanted to make sure someone from the community was at least in the room,” English said.

Read more:

City searches for Citarella replacement

As one grocery store leaves West Harlem, the city is preparing to review proposals for its replacement.

At a meeting Tuesday night, city officials said that plans for replacing the upscale grocery store­, which is being evicted from its complex on 125th and 126th streets, are progressing.

Alejandro Baquero, assistant vice president of development at the city’s Economic Development Corporation—the agency handling the new developer search—said that responses from developers are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. His office has not received any yet, he said.

“The process depends on the size of the pool and the strength of the applications,” Baquero said. “We’ll see what the market says.”

Citarella’s eviction is the result of a State Supreme Court ruling in June 2009, which asserted that its developer failed to fulfill a promise to fill office and retail space in its building, the former Taystee Bakery Complex. The city has been searching for a new developer since November.

Baquero said that litigation is still ongoing and he could not comment about his expectations for the proposals, though he has received a number of calls.

The meeting, hosted by West Harlem’s Community Board 9, brought the EDC and the board’s Land Use and Zoning Committee together to discuss health and business issues in Harlem.

Local residents had an array of suggestions for the building’s future use, including a fruit and vegetable market or an expansion of the Tuck-It-Away storage facility. Baquero maintained that whatever they decide, the building will adhere to the area’s mixed-use policy outlined in the West Harlem rezoning plan last month­—meaning it would mix different types of commercial and residential space.

“For us, it was very clear that in the event of a redevelopment of that area this site has to attract jobs, jobs, jobs,” Baquero said.

Larry English, chair of Community Board 9, agreed.

“We’re looking for a proposal that fits outside of the box and creates jobs. … I’m not prepared to say what goes there, but we told EDC to be a partner in the project. We need the right kind of economic development and that is up for debate for what that is,” English said.

Many attendees left the meeting before the Citarella building was even mentioned, since that development was only discussed after a long presentation by the city’s Department of Small Business.

“None of the issues in the meeting today should have been discussed,” said Savona Bailey-McClain, a CB9 member and West Harlem resident.

“Everyone involved in this meeting is aware of what is going on, and this meeting was to benefit people who are not involved,” she said, citing the presentations before the discussion of Citarella. “West Harlem needs energy, transportation, technical, and creative business. Not supermarkets,” she added.