By Jeff Mays
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.