Perkins: Harlem leaders left me out of secret meeting to discuss Urban League project

Among the attendees at confab called by Assemblyman Keith Wright at Sylvia’s were City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, representatives from Congressman Charles Rangel’s office and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, former state controller Carl McCall.

It seems one Harlem pol is not a part of the cool kids club.

Sen. Bill Perkins (above) is furious he was left out of a private meeting held earlier this week by Assemblyman Keith Wright, Harlem Chamber of Commerce president Lloyd Williams and others to rally support for project to build headquarters for National Urban League in Harlem.

Sen. Bill Perkins (above) is furious he was left out of a private meeting held earlier this week by Assemblyman Keith Wright, Harlem Chamber of Commerce president Lloyd Williams and others to rally support for project to build headquarters for National Urban League in Harlem.

Uptown leaders convened a private sitdown at Sylvia’s Restaurant Wednesday to muster support for the controversial plan to convert a row of small businesses on 125th St. into the headquarters for the National Urban League.

Among the roughly 20 attendees were City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, representatives from Congressman Charles Rangel’s office and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, former state controller Carl McCall.

The only problem: Those who weren’t invited to the powwow included Harlem state Sen. Bill Perkins — a leading opponent of the city-and-state backed plan — and the four small businesses that would be displaced by the $225 million project.

“When you have such an unbalanced select group of leaders from the neighborhood — all the leaders from the neighborhood, but me . . . what’s the point?” Perkins told the Daily News on Thursday. “The point is, they don’t want the counterpoint. All you get is why the Urban League should be entitled to displace four honest, hard-working businesses who have an outstanding legacy in Harlem.”

Restaurateur Raj Whadwa, who opened Sarku Japan over a year ago, says he and the other longtime tenants of the site should have been present.

“Why would we get ignored on this?” said Whadwa. “I want to be at all of these things. From what I understand so far our voice has not been heard.”

The hour-long meeting was called to set the record straight and provide details on the project, says Assemblyman Keith Wright, who hosted the confab along with Lloyd Williams, head of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference.

For 15 years Rolston Waltin, has run his Caribbean bakery and grill Golden Crust inside of a building that will soon be home to the National Urban League.

For 15 years Rolston Waltin, has run his Caribbean bakery and grill Golden Crust inside of a building that will soon be home to the National Urban League.

There was so much misinformation during this whole process that I thought it was important to get the real concrete information and go from there,” said Wright.

Some of that misinformation included reports that Macy’s — the mega-retailer accused of racial profiling — was moving into the building.

Wright did not respond to follow-up questions as to why Perkins and the merchants were excluded.

Sources said that National Urban League president Marc Morial attended the meeting to rally support for the project and lay out his plans for the space on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X Blvds., where construction is slated to begin in 2015 — around the same time the tenants’ leases expire.

Harlem’s heavy hitters lauded the plan, sources said, but some expressed concerns about the fate of the small business owners, .

Urban League officials want the issue resolved, said one source with connections to the project.

Perkins promised to go to court with the Whadwa and the other business owners, and said all discussions about the project should be public.

“There should not have to be a secret meeting, an exclusive meeting about a community project,” Perkins said. “That sends a message to other businesses as to the fate they may suffer.”

jransom@nydailynews.com

 Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/sen-slams-secret-meeting-harlem-urban-league-project-article-1.1546391#ixzz2nPfsjzJ4

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Landmark Fire Watchtower in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park will get $4M makeover

The crumbling 19th Century structure is the last remaining cast-iron watchtower  in the U.S. it is the only one remaining of eight that once constituted  Manhattan’s emergency alert system

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

The landmark Fire Watchtower sits behind a fence in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The crumbling structure is set to get a $4 million makeover.

Most New Yorkers don’t even know it exists, but a crumbling 19th century  landmark in Marcus Garvey Park is about to be turned into Harlem’s newest  sightseeing destination, thanks to a $4 million makeover that will be announced  Wednesday.

The cast-iron fire watchtower — the only one remaining of eight that  constituted Manhattan’s emergency alert system before the days of fire alarm  boxes — has been ignored for decades.

The Parks Department, Borough  President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman  Inez Dickens will each contribute more than $1 million to help rebuild the  deteriorating landmark.

“It’s the only remaining cast-iron watchtower in the United State of America,” said Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro, whose office plans to spend $1.1 million on the project. “It’s a unique phenomenon in New York City.”

Contractors will spend the next 12 months dismantling the structure’s rusty  beams, mending the least-damaged spots and replacing the broken pieces with  fresh slabs of cast iron.

Dickens, whose office pledged nearly $2 million to rebuild the 47-foot  relic, called the allocation a “smart investment that will pay for itself many  times over.”

 “It is one of the highest points in Harlem and has special historic cachet  as the last existing structure of its kind,” the Councilwoman added. “This  project will draw visitors and serve as a community asset.”

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Heirs of Harlem Hero Call for Street, Pool Renaming

Madlyn Stokely, shown with her daughter Rochelle Hill, lives on West 123rd Street in the brownstone where her mother, activist Hilda Stokely, lived. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

Madlyn Stokely, shown with her daughter Rochelle Hill, lives on West 123rd Street in the brownstone where her mother, activist Hilda Stokely, lived. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

When Hilda Stokely decided her son should have skis, nothing got in her way. She went out and bought a pair, but she didn’t send him to Aspen or Vail. Instead, she grabbed a shovel and built her own slope on a hill in Central Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park.

“I was the only black kid in Harlem who had skis,” said Bill Stokely Jr., now 57.

“She would make a decision about what she felt her family should have and she went about doing that,” said his sister, Madlyn Stokely. “She always taught us that we had a right to be whoever we wanted to be.”

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Harlem Hospital Unveils New $325 Million Pavilion and Historic Murals

HARLEM — Harlem Hospital opened its new $325 million wing to the public Thursday, unveiling a public art gallery that features historic murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project.

The Mural Pavilion, located on Lenox Avenue between 135th and 136th streets, will also feature works curated by hip hop producer and artist Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean in his role as the first global ambassador for the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

“Today’s ribbon-cutting demonstrates our deep respect for the Harlem community,” said Harlem Hospital Center Executive Director Denise Soares.

The six story, 195,000 square foot building connects the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pavilion and the Ronald H. Brown Ambulatory Care Pavilion. The new structure, designed by architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc., houses surgical clinics and a new dialysis unit among other departments.

The adult and pediatric emergency department and level 1 trauma center will also be housed in the building and be finished by 2013.

Rep. Charles Rangel said the new pavilion signaled a new era for the hospital. Where once people said not to take them to Harlem Hospital if they became sick, “now people are saying can you get me into Harlem Hospital,” said Rangel.

The unveiling of the murals represents the first time they’ve been seen by the public since being restored. The murals were in the hospital for more than 70 years, with many being covered by plaster and some damaged by fire and water.

Eight murals were created at the hospital and five remain. Harlem Hospital was the first WPA commission for African-American artists.

The Manhattan delegation of the city council allocated $4.2 million to restore the murals.

Works such as “Pursuit of Happiness” by Vertis C. Hayes, “Magic in Medicine” and “Modern Medicine” by Charles H. Alston and “Modern Surgery and Anesthesia” by Alfred D. Crimi have been fully restored and are on display. The significant “Recreation in Harlem” by Georgette Seabrooke, is on display while it continues to be fully restored.

“At night time when you see the mural lit up it’s like, ‘wow they are doing big things in Harlem, wow they are rebuilding Harlem.’ I feel it gives people some type of inspiration to chase a goal that they have,” said Dean, who is married to singer Alicia Keys.

Dean said he thought the artwork could serve as an inspiration to young people.

“I know many people that came to this hospital for the wrong reasons. But now to be able to come to this hospital and see all this inspiration it can change the dynamic on Harlem Hospital and the opportunity that you can have to express yourself through arts,” added Dean who is also a mixed-media artist.

Dean said he hopes to partner with other up and coming artists to create work to display in the lobby’s pavilion.

Vertis Hayes Jr., 62, a retired aerospace engineer from Los Angeles visited the work created by his father.

“To me, it’s a miracle, it’s a gift,” he said while standing next to the restored “Pursuit of Happiness” which depicts the different phases of the lives of African-Americans both in Africa and in America.

“When people see this I want them to understand they are a part of the fabric of the history being depicted,” he said

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120927/central-harlem/harlem-hospital-unveils-new-325-million-pavilion-historic-murals#ixzz27mNkpmiv

Harlem Powerbrokers Brainstorm Ways to Stem Small Business Closures

HARLEM — A group of local leaders met at Sylvia’s Restaurant this week to come up with ways to stem a recent spate of small business closures.

Harlem powerbrokers met at Sylvia's recently to discuss the rise in small business closures.

Harlem powerbrokers met at Sylvia’s recently to discuss the rise in small business closures.

Rep. Charles Rangel, City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Lloyd Williams of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and Regina Smith of the Harlem Business Alliance gathered at the famous restaurant in response to a rash of mostly black-owned businesses being shuttered in the last few months.

“We have to realize we are going through an economic change,” Rangel said after the meeting.

As Harlem grows in popularity and new restaurants and bars open on Lenox Avenue, several established black-owned businesses have begun to close. Among the businesses that have shuttered recently are Hue-Man Bookstore, the bowling alley Harlem Lanes and Mobay Uptown, a Caribbean soul food restaurant along 125th Street.

Along the hot Frederick Douglass Boulevard corridor, Nectar Wine Bar and Society Coffee have also shut down. Sherman’s Barbecue, a 60-year-old rib joint that served the Beatles, also closed recently.

Other businesses facing problems are Lenox Lounge.

“It’s a myriad of problems. High rent is one problem, we don’t have access to capital and some people don’t know how to run a back office,” Dickens said. “I’m just putting out fires, so I haven’t had a chance to think about this collectively.”

Dickens added she often gets calls from small businesses in need of help hours before a court date or just before the marshal is showing up to perform an eviction.

“What concerns me most is those who held it together are being pushed out. If you hold it together you should be respected and given an opportunity to continue,” said Walter Edwards, CEO of Full Spectrum NY, which is about to open My Image Studios LLC on 116th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues.

Kenneth Woods, president of Sylvia Woods Inc., which owns Sylvia’s Restaurant, said his business has avoided some of the financial difficulties of other establishments because it controls its own real estate.

“That’s a major part of our success,” he said.

Harlem Lanes and Hue-Man are among the stores that have cited rising rents as a partial cause of their demise.

Woods recalled how his brother, Van, told entrepreneurs as far back as the 1980s, when Harlem wasn’t as popular, to buy as much property as they could.

“He was blowing the horn,” Kenneth Woods said. “It’s amazing how much commercial property that Harlem black businesses have lost.”

He also said many small business owners lack access to capital.

“With a business, you have to grow, and to do that you have to have access to capital,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, commercial banks these days are not friendly lenders.”

Still, Woods’ popular business has suffered difficulties, too. The six-figure real estate taxes on the property has doubled in the past three to five years.

New businesses must do a better job of forecasting future costs and factor Harlem’s rising real estate costs into their business plans, Woods added.

Marva Allen, Hue-Man’s CEO and co-owner, said it might be too late to help many small businesses because of the gentrification of Harlem.

“Helping small business would have had to happen 20 years ago,” said Allen, who is continuing to sell books online. “The horse has left the gate.

“When politicians put programs in place for regentrification and not revitalization, they did not do a panoramic view of how that would hurt small businesses,” she added. “And nothing was put in place to protect them.”

Access to capital is still the major obstacle many small businesses face, Allen said.

“When small businesses in Harlem get to the point of struggle they don’t have the credit. Unless they are going to find a way for small businesses to access a capital for growth they will be spinning their wheels doing the same thing without hope for growth,” he said.

Sakita Holley, a small business owner who is a a publicist and editorial director of the Eat in Harlem blog, said residents are clamoring for politicians and non-profits to “be much more visible during these tough economic times,” especially after this recent wave of small business closures.

“More resources need to be made available to business owners and more needs to be done to make the community feel like they’re a partner to the businesses that are asking for their support,” Holley said.
Regina Smith, executive director of the Harlem Business Alliance, recently joined with 125th Street Business Improvement District, Harlem Park to Park and the Aloft Harlem Hotel to form the Harlem Promotional Alliance to help Harlem small businesses market themselves and take advantage of the neighborhood’s popularity as a tourist destination.
Similar efforts are needed, she said.

“We are looking to come up with solutions better tailored to the needs of our entrepreneurs. We have to go deeper,” Smith said.

For example, to help with the issue of rising rents, small businesses may need help with lease negotiations, experts said. Business owners can also be paired with community organizations that may have available commercial space at reduced prices.

Allen of Hue-Man said she is being creative. Next month, Hue-Man will partner with My Image Studios to host a book-signing by Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. The event will allow Hue-Man to keep a presence in Harlem while a brick-and-mortar location.

The fact that many of the businesses that have closed are minority-owned makes the effort even more important to Smith.

“We have to make it work. We have no choice,” she said.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120815/harlem/harlem-powerbrokers-brainstorm-stem-small-business-closures#ixzz23fGyaZar

Push to add to Harlem complex grows

The owner of Lenox Terrace is intensifying its outreach to tenants to win their approval for its controversial proposal to add about six buildings to a famed, largely rent-regulated complex in Harlem. The move comes as the landlord prepares to submit a rezoning plan for the property.

On Friday, the Olnick Organization put up a Web site and sent mailings to the 1,700 apartments in the six-building complex, boasting of how the plan will add new retail stores, upgrade community facilities, add park space and create 1,100 jobs. Addressing community concerns about the height of the new towers, the proposal now calls for at least one of the new properties to be only four stories. At least one, however, is slated to be 29 stories.

Published reports had said that all the buildings would be between 26 and 28 stories. The existing buildings are all 16 stories, so residents were concerned they would be dwarfed by the additions.

“As we proceed with a plan to update Lenox Terrace, we are continuing to engage our residents in a conversation about how to make improvements so it remains Harlem’s premier residential community for the coming decades,” said Bruce Simon, president of the Olnick Organization in a statement. “Residents’ ideas and passion for the Lenox Terrace community have helped shape our vision for this plan, and we thank them for their efforts.”

Sources said the company plans to submit its proposal to the Department of City Planning in the coming weeks. Winning over the deeply skeptical community is crucial because the plan must pass the City Council, and it typically takes its cues from the local representative.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens shares her constituents’ concerns over how the new buildings would lead to overcrowding and much higher rents that would change the character of the complex, which was once known as the “Jewel of Harlem.” Stretching from Fifth Avenue to Lenox Avenue between West 132 Street to West 135th Street, the complex is home to former Gov. David Paterson and Harlem U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel.

“The councilwoman is concerned that residents be able to stay in the apartments,” said a spokeswoman for Ms. Dickens spokeswoman. “She is concerned that indigenous business be able to afford the retail rents and not just multi-million dollar chains.”

Over the summer, the Olnick Organization gave many presentations to residents, listening to their options and laying out some elements of the plans. Many weren’t happy with what they heard.

“They want to create an upscale community with wealthy people and upscale stores,” said Delsenia Glover, president of the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants, who has lived in the complex for 30 years. “We don’t see this as a good thing. They want to kick out the people that made this a good neighborhood.”

Still, Ms. Glover was heartened to hear that some of the buildings are only slated to be four stories.

“Then we may have something to talk about,” she said.

In a statement, an Olnick Organization spokesman said that in the ten meeting the company had with tenants, the majority of the response was positive.

Read more: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20111014/REAL_ESTATE/111019914#ixzz1az9NyMF1

Restoration of Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park Unveiled

Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe today joined Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; City Council Member Inez Dickens; Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington; Marcus Park Alliance President and Secretary/Treasurer Carla MacIntosh and Valerie Jo Bradley; City Parks Foundation Executive Director David Rivel; and Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of the composer Richard Rodgers and executive board member of the Rodgers Family Foundation, to cut the ribbon on $7 million in improvements to the restored bandshell and amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park.

The ceremony also featured performances by Laura Osnes and Colin Donnell from the Roundabout Theater Company‘s production of Anything Goes, a performance by trombonist Craig Harris who played an original composition called “Harlem,” and a performance by the P.S. 166 / Richard Rodgers School Fifth Grade Honors Choir.

“This is a great day to whistle a happy tune as the restored Richard Rodgers Amphitheater will revitalize this Historic Harlem park as a place to enjoy the outdoors and to celebrate the arts,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “We are extremely grateful to The Rodgers Family Foundation for its generous $1 million contribution to this project, provided through the City Parks Foundation, and to Borough President Stringer, State Senator Perkins, and Council Member Dickens for their funding allocations which will allow this amphitheater to come alive again with the sound of music.”

“The renovation of this bandshell is enormously good news for the long-term health of this park and this community,” said David Rivel, Executive Director of City Parks Foundation. “Increased programming in Marcus Garvey Park’s bandshell over the last ten years has been one of the most important methods of reclaiming this park as a vital community resource. A renovated bandshell, thanks to the strong leadership of the City, thoughtful input from the community, and the generosity of The Rodgers Family Foundation, will become a vital community and educational resource for decades to come.”

“It was just three years ago that I stood here with Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Benepe to announce plans for a new amphitheater,” said Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of Richard Rodgers. “On behalf of The Rodgers Family Foundation, I am thrilled that this beautiful new space is now alive with the sound of music.”

Funding for this $7 million project came from $4.9 million from mitigation funds provided to Parks by the MTA in connection with the Second Avenue Subway project; $600,000 allocated by Borough President Scott Stringer; $409,000 allocated by State Senator Bill Perkins when he was a Council Member, and $200,000 through his successor, Council Member Inez Dickens.
The Richard Rodgers Family Foundation, established by the composer Richard Rodgers and his wife, also donated $1 million.

The new amphitheater features a wider stage that is much closer to the audience, a large, multi-purpose area backstage with changing rooms and restrooms for the performers, an improved seating area with seatbacks built of a durable recycled plastic, and a fabric canopy to shield a large portion of the audience from the hot summer sun. The historic park setting coupled with the new amphitheater’s large stage, multi-purpose backstage area, improved seating with sunshade, and upgraded lighting and sound hookups, all work together to create one of the premier outdoor performance spaces that New York City has to offer.

Thanks to the Richard Rodgers Family Foundation, a pool of $25,000 in grants are being made available to support community performances in the space. Another pool of approximately $25,000 will be available to support the commissioning of new work by City Parks Foundation for the space.

The new bandshell and amphitheater was designed by Cooper, Robertson and Partners and the contractor was Triton Structural Concrete, Inc. The City Parks Foundation Project Manager for the construction was Tom McGinty. The Parks Project Manager was Paul Schubert and the Resident Engineer was Heidy Grullon.

“The new Richard Rodgers Amphitheater with its enhanced sightlines and acoustics creates a more intimate and direct relationship between the performers and audience,” said Scott Newman, partner of Cooper, Robertson & Partners and architect for the project. “Taken together with the Park’s magnificent canopy of trees and many historic features, the new Richard Rodgers Amphitheater breathes new life into one of the most treasured outdoor performance spaces in New York City.”

This summer, City Parks Foundation has a full schedule of programs at the Amphitheater including a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V from August 5-8, music performances with Ryan Leslie, Funkmaster Flex and others from August 9-11, dance performances with the Cecilia Marta Dance Company, Forces of Nature Dance Theater and others from August 12-13, and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 27. To view a video of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/nycparksdepartment#p/u/75/v_aQR0lXvIs

Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-79) enjoyed a spectacular career that spanned more than six decades. His hits ranged from the silver screens of Hollywood to the bright lights of Broadway, London and beyond. He was the recipient of countless awards, including Pulitzers, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. He wrote more than 900 published songs and forty Broadway musicals, including The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, The King and I, and South PacifiC. Rodgers‘ childhood home, at 3 West 120th Street, overlooked what was then called Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) and which the composer described as “one of the prettiest little parks in New York.” In 1970 he provided funding for the original band shell, which has now been restored and renamed “The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater.”

Read more: http://broadwayworld.com/article/Restoration-of-Richard-Rodgers-Amphitheater-at-Marcus-Garvey-Park-Unveiled-20110602#ixzz1OLhqZs3y

Harlem Councilwoman Backs St. Nicholas Charter School — With Reservations

A playgrounds at St. Nicholas Houses.

HARLEM— Councilwoman Inez Dickens is “extremely supportive” of the plan to build a Harlem Children’s Zone charter school at St. Nicholas Houses, but she’s concerned about the safety issues being raised by residents.

Lynette Velasco, a spokeswoman for Dickens, said the councilwoman supports Geoffrey Canada and his efforts to address the needs of all area children.

“So far, Harlem Children’s Zone has done everything to satisfy the council member’s need for all of the children and parents in the district to be included regardless of economic status,” said Velasco.

However, Dickens is also concerned about the plan to open a cul-de-sac on 129th street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. New York City Housing Authority and Harlem Children’s Zones officials say the street is a necessary drop-off point for the 135,000 square foot project that will house 1,300 kids.

Residents there have said opening the street will bring in more traffic. They have also expressed concern about the loss of valuable open space in the middle of the complex which is located between West 127th and West 131st streets and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Citizens for the Preservation of St. Nicholas Houses has collected 700 signatures against placing the charter school on the grounds of the complex.

A City College professor of urban architectural history has said the school should be made smaller while keeping the cul-de-sac.

Community Board 10 voted against opening the street and returning it to the street grid last week. They also cited safety concerns and the possibility of future NYCHA development on the site without community input.

NYCHA officials say they have taken steps to address street safety concerns by doing things like adding speed bumps and making changes to the design of the crosswalk. They say the benefits of the project outweigh the risks.

The board’s opinion is only advisory but the City Council has the final say on the project and usually looks to the member who represents the area for guidance.

“She takes her community boards very seriously and they have expressed misgivings about opening up the street,” Velasco said. “So while she is extremely supportive she is still working to make sure the needs of the community are met.”

That may mean meeting with Harlem Children’s Zone and NYCHA officials to address the concerns raised by the community board and residents.

“We’ve dealt with the educational needs and now we have to look at the infrastructure needs and the  concerns with safety. That’s an ongoing discussion,” said Velasco.

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110112/harlem/harlem-councilwoman-supports-st-nicholas-charter-school-with-reservations#ixzz1AyjBH1CI

Despite rezoning, development slow on 125th in Harlem

More than two years after the city passed plans to rezone Harlem’s historic thoroughfare, few development projects are actually pushing forward on 125th Street.

In 2008 a rezoning plan for 125th Street—known for bustling nightlife and jazz at the Apollo Theater—went through the City Council, calling for more retail activity, taller buildings, and an increase in affordable housing.

“Our rezoning plan for 125th Street will spur new investment as well as a range of cultural and retail opportunities,” said chair of the City Planning Commission Amanda M. Burden in an October 2007 press release. “This comprehensive initiative will fulfill the promise of Harlem’s Main Street as a vibrant corridor and a premier arts, entertainment and commercial destination in the City.”

Local politicians such as Councilwoman Inez Dickens who championed the rezoning envisioned a revitalized Harlem with new restaurants, shops, arts venues and housing, a chunk of which would be income-targeted affordable housing.

But now, some Harlem residents say they have not seen progress, and that the economic recession halted many developers in their tracks, leaving behind streets of vacant buildings.

“Everything’s moving at a snail’s pace, as opposed to the way things were going five, six years ago, when you saw construction seemingly overnight,” said lifelong resident Zenola Smalls, who sells CDs on 125th. “Because the economy collapsed, you see very little if any new construction.”

Two neighborhood projects, though, have made progress. Across from the famous Apollo Theater, for example, is the hulking shell of a storefront called Mart 125. This 17,400 square foot city-owned building housed a thriving flea market for street vendors from 1986 until 2001, when the city shut it down due to the building’s deterioration and mismanagement.

After years of discussion, the New York City Economic Development Corporation decided in late 2009 to lease the space to two cultural groups: the National Jazz Museum, currently located in East Harlem, and ImageNation, which will provide movie screenings, spoken word events and live music.

“Once it [NYC EDC] selects the developer from all the proposals, then the process will move into the next step,” said National Jazz Museum Executive Director Loren Schoenberg. “We’ve already raised $10 million of the $20 million that we need to move into Mart 125.”

Schoenberg estimates that the process will still take a couple of years before the museum can move in.

Still, just down the street from Smalls’ booth, an empty property stands at the corner of 125th Street and 8th Avenue. Once the location of over a dozen different locally-owned businesses, including the local soul food haunt Manna’s, it now stands boarded up and covered in graffiti.

The Victoria Theater, a historic Harlem landmark that closed in 1990, has similarly been neglected in the rezoning initiatives, despite hopes that the rezoning would encourage arts and entertainment venues along 125th Street.

Ryan Fitzgibbon, spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, said the DOB has not seen applications for developing the Victoria Theater in the last 10 years.

Despite uncertainty over local development, some residents say they’ve noticed positive change.

“Look at the stores, the shops, look at the people walking on the street,” said Harlem resident and street vendor Laheen Allah. “There’s more diversity in Harlem now than ever before.”

news@columbiaspectator.com