By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The city is moving forward with plans to develop the former Taystee Bakery complex in West Harlem without the participation of the site's main current tenant, Citarella.
The gourmet grocery store, which was seen as a sign of the neighborhood's gentrification when it opened its doors in 2005, has been locked in a legal fight with the city for years over whether they've held up their end of a deal to develop space in the six-building complex on West 125th Street. Not willing to wait for the outcome, the city issued a request for interest from developers last week.
"We don't want to wait for the litigation to be resolved, so we will put out a request and see what kind of response we get," said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for the city's Economic Development Corporation. "There's no reason we can't get proposals."
The city is open to different development possibilities at the site at 461 West 125th Street and 426-458 West 126th Street, which has approximately 134,000 square feet of space. Wood said it could be another retailer or another type of space that makes sense. Citarella's 125th Street location will remain open during this process.
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 its 125th Street space, but Citarella owner Joseph Guerra has appealed the ruling.
Citarella representatives could not be reached for comment.
The expressions of interest are due back on Jan. 19, 2011.
Residential space is also a possibility. Under a new West Harlem zoning plan, residential space can be developed on the 126th street side of the site.
"We are in dire need of supermarkets of the quality of Citarella," Larry English, chair of Community Board 9, told DNAInfo. "This is a project where the community wants to be intimately involved in the process of choosing the next developer."