‘They see an area that is going to be hot”

THE shovels are breaking Harlem’s dirt at an increasing velocity.

Along with a slew of new residential offerings from low-income to luxury, commercial developments are also arriving, with a particular emphasis on the main 125th Street corridor.

Changes include a revamped waterfront along the Hudson River, additions to the Columbia University campus, new auto dealer-ships, new banks, a new hotel and major office building, and the East River Plaza retail development.

Along the Hudson River, some work has begun on the revitalization of the Harlem Piers between 125th and 135th Streets.

The first phase of the West Harlem Master Plan will create accessibility and beautify the waterfront area with plantings, small shops, a visitor’s center and restaurant.

Currently, the city is working on securing permits from the federal government to proceed. There are also discussions about creating transportation, including a Metro North rail stop.

The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone is providing $6 million in funding for the redevelopment in conjunction with the Economic Development Corp.

“When you couple the Pier with the aspirations that Columbia has, we think it will help galvanize development areound that area,” noted Kenneth Knuckles, president of the UMEZ.

The otherwise dingy area is undergoing significant positive changes, with many properties having been recently acquired by Columbia University for its 20-plus year large-scale campus expansion.

World class architects, Renzo Piano and Skidmore Ownings Merrill with Marilyn Jordan Taylor in charge, have created the master expansion plan.

Robert Kasdin, senior executive vice president of Columbia, said the first approximately $1 billion phase of their expansion will include a new School of the Arts on W. 125th Street, a Science Lab on Broadway that will kick-start a science corridor connecting to the City University lab, and the renovation of the former milk-factory Prentiss Building at 622 W. 125th Street, the Studebaker Building at 615 W. 133rd Steet and 560 Riverside Drive.

“We want to retain and build a vibrant commercial presence from Broadway to 12th Avenue and up Broadway to 133rd Street,” said Kasdin. “We also want to continue to explore putting retail along 12th Avenue under the viaduct.”

Under that dark West Side Highway overpass, renowned barbeque restaurant Dinosaur Bar-B-Que already signed a 15-year lease for 7,500 square feet in the building at the corner of 131st Street and Joe DiMaggio Highway.

The UMEZ will work with the owner to provide wage tax credits and other incentives as well as supplying him with access to Seedco, the employment program.

“They see an area that is going to be hot,” said Knuckles.

The activity in Harlem is most apparent at ground level, where dozens of national retailers from Starbucks to Mac cosmetics have dug in to offer their wares.

Harlem USA at 300-322 W. 125th Street at the southwest corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard helped to kick-off the national leasing activity in the year 2000.

Developed diagonally opposite the Apollo Theater, the 275,000 square-foot entertainment/retail property incorporates the Magic Johnson Theater as well as major retailers including Modell’s.

Nearby, the vacant Loews Victoria is being scrutinized by hoteliers including Starwood’s upscale W.

Meanwhile, Touro College will create a graduate campus and School of Continuing Education in the old Blumstein building that is a fixture across the street. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone [UMEZ] jujst approved a $4.7 million loan for that project.

“Students are coming in to obtain an education and it will have a very significant impact on 125th Street” said Knuckles.

The low-slung white office building at 215 W. 125th Street between Frederick Douglas and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards has 162,000 square-feet of office space that is now fully leased.

The Cogswell Group purchased that building and upgraded it along with 55 W. 125th Street, which became infamous with the arrival of former President Bill Clinton to its penthouse.

Should you want to become his neighbor, according to CoStar Group data, the 12th and 13th floors totalling 31,000 square-feet are now available with an asking rent of $32 a foot.

Forest City Ratner has a number of office and retail investments in Harlem, including the first phase of Harlem Center.

This $80-million, 300,000 square-foot project was constructed on state-owned land at 105 W. 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard. Two state agencies are anchoring the office building, and CVS, Staple’s, Marshall’s and Washington Mutual occupy retail spaces.

To help meet the office demand, a Class A office, retail and hotel project, Harlem Park, is scheduled to rise at 1800 Park Avenue on land rented from the College of Podiatry next door.

A Courtyard by Marriott will include restaurants, banquet and meeting space that will also service a state of the art office tower with wireless technology.

Developer Michael Caridi of the Majic Development Group, hopes to obtain Liberty Bond financing.

“There are a number of corporate tenants we are talking to,” said Caridi. “We’re getting the interest of the Fortune 1000.”

Further south on Park Avenue, the East Harlem Business Capital Corp. is working with developers Nina DeMartini Day and Terrence Moan of ddm development and services to create a vendor-filled 90,000 square-foot food market.

Marqueta International is expected to energize the area under the Park Avenue Viaduct from 111th Street to 119th Street.

“What makes it now possible is all the new housing between Fifth and Park Avenues, and the residents all need shopping,” said DeMartini Day, referring to previous failed attempts.

DeMartini Day and Moan were also responsible for developing the three-story Gateway Building at Lexington Avenue.

Two new General Motors dealerships are being constructed from the ground up along Second Avenue in what will be known as the Harlem Auto Mall.

“There hasn’t been a dealership in Harlem in 100 years and they have to go outside the community,” said Otis Thornton, a GMAC financing and GM dealership veteran who was awarded the rights to pitch Chevrolets and Saturns in the new, $18 million full service facility.

The Chevrolet Saturn of Harlem will be located at 2485 Second Avenue between 126th and 127th Street. Another dealer, Potamkin, is constructing a separate building next door.

To help kick off the long-stalled 450,000 square-foot East River Plaza retail project by the FDR Drive between 116th Street and 119th Street, Forest City Ratner bought out a California-based partner in the large Blumenfeld Development Group project on the site of the former Washburn Wire Factory.

Previous leases struck with Home Depot and Costco expired but leaders are hopeful that Home Depot will recommit to 120,000 square-feet, particularly since it would make renovations to the area’s apartments and buildings cheaper and easier.

“Not only will it bring retail of a kind that will benefit Upper Manhattan, but it will create between 500 and 1,000 jobs plus construction jobs,” said Kenneth Knuckles.


Columbia University


Harlem Park



Harlem Auto Mall


East River Plaza


Black Wall Street Conference in North Carolina


Harlem Week and Chamber of Commerce