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Harlem Renaissance

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Harlem Renaissance

Once Blighted Neighborhood Now Home to Building Boom

by Natalie Keith

What a difference a decade makes.

If you walked through Harlem 10 years ago, you were more apt to find abandoned buildings than construction sites in this historic Manhattan neighborhood. But today, as New York City continues to become a safer and more economically vibrant city, Harlem is experiencing a building boom.

"Harlem is currently experiencing an economic reawakening that rivals its well-documented cultural, arts and entertainment renaissance of the 1920s, 30s and 40s," said Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.

When the neighborhood first began attracting the attention of developers during former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration, much of the new development was retail on the city's main thoroughfare, 125th Street. The Harlem Center Mall, Harlem USA, East River Plaza and 125th Street Pathmark projects - all of which are located on 125th Street - were initiated during the late 1990s.

But, in 2000, when former president Bill Clinton decided to locate his private offices on 125th Street instead of 57th Street, many saw the move as a psychological boost to the neighborhood. Many developers have followed Clinton's lead and decided to make Harlem the home for their next project.

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Retail, along with other types of development, continues to thrive. Late last year, East Harlem Business Capital Corp. was designated to redevelop La Marqueta, a 50,000-sq.-ft. retail market and open-air plaza in the heart of El Barrio in East Harlem. Plans call for constructing three to four one-story buildings ranging in size from 10,000 to 15,000 sq. ft.

Potential tenants include businesses that sell fish, meat, poultry, fruit and other goods.

"The 'Marqueta International' will be a great asset to our city and a significant anchor in East Harlem's future development," said Elizabeth Colon, executive director of the East Harlem Business Capital Corp.

Other private development has followed the upsurge in retail. New housing, much of which is aimed at low- to middle-income homebuyers - is sprouting up with regularity.

Bradhurst Court, a 126-unit condominium project at West 145th Street and Bradhurst Avenue, is nearing completion. Construction recently started on Strivers Garden, a $67 million, 170-unit condominium project on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 134th and 135th streets. Prices start at $140,000 at Strivers Garden and $170,000 at Bradhurst Court.

The Washington Cooperatives project consists of the rehabilitation of 89 units in an existing building and construction of a new 15-unit building on West 148th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

Perhaps the most striking example of Harlem's recent attraction to developers is plans to build a 585,000-sq.-ft. mixed-use development called Harlem Park that will include Class A office and retail space and Harlem's first major hotel, a Marriott Courtyard. It is the first time Marriott has built a Courtyard hotel in the inner city and it is the first hotel the neighborhood has seen since 1966.

"The building of the first Marriott hotel in Upper Manhattan represents a decisive milestone in the evolution of Harlem," said Raymond P. Caldiero, a member of 1800 Park Ave LLC, developers of Harlem Park. "We believe that tourists from around the country and the world will want to sample the unparalleled energy of this historic neighborhood

The $190 million development at 125th Street and Park Avenue will include 250,000 sq. ft. of Class A office space, a 125,000-sq.-ft. hotel, 38,000 sq. ft. of catering space and 15,000 sq. ft. of space set aside for a jazz club.

The Marriott is not the only major company to "break new ground" in Harlem. General Motors Corp. and Potamkin Automotive recently started construction on the Harlem Auto Mall on the block bounded by East 127th and 128th streets and Second and Third avenues. It is the first new auto dealership built north of 60th Street in 40 years.

"When organizations of the caliber of General Motors and Potamkin choose East Harlem for a major investment, it's a sure sign that the neighborhood is maintaining its momentum toward becoming a major shopping destination as well as a place where people want to work and live," Bloomberg said, in a release announcing the project.

The private development is complemented by public improvements such as the streetscape plan for the stretch of Malcolm X Boulevard from 110th to 147th streets and plans to create a park along the Hudson River between 129th and 133rd streets. The landscape improvements will include lighting, benches and signs, and the park will include a recreational/fishing pier and a ferry/water taxi pier.

The neighborhood has also seen institutional development, such as the new 102,000-sq.-ft. Harlem Health Center at 125th Street and Morningside Drive. The landmark Apollo Theater is undergoing a $6 million refurbishment of its exterior, and the Museum for African Art is developing a plan to build a new 60,000-sq.-ft. museum at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue.

From New York Construction News

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