City Wants to Turn 125th Street Garage Into Office and Cultural Space

By Jeff Mays on May 16, 2012 9:28am 

The city's Economic Development Corporation wants to turn an underutilized 160,000 square foot parking garage with retail space on 125th Street into office and cultural space.
The city's Economic Development Corporation wants to turn an underutilized 160,000 square foot parking garage with retail space on 125th Street into office and cultural space.
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DN

HARLEM — The city's Economic Development Corporation wants to turn an underutilized 160,000 square foot parking garage with retail space on 125th Street into office and cultural space.

The EDC issued a request for proposals for the site Tuesday that they hope will produce as much as 363,000 square feet of commercial space in addition to a visual or performing arts facility. Located at 121 W. 125th St. between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, the 450-space garage also has nine retail storefronts. At least four are currently vacant.

“The redevelopment of this site will add to the incredible momentum building along 125th Street in recent years,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky.

“Revitalizing underutilized properties such as this one will further transform the corridor into a vibrant hub for commercial and cultural activity, and serve as yet another reminder of what makes Harlem one of New York’s great neighborhoods.”

A spokesman for EDC said it's unclear what will happen to the existing stores after their lease is up. The request for proposals includes $200,000 from EDC to facilitate lower market rent at the new structure.

That still has some store owners and patrons concerned about the future of the storefronts.

Among the stores that rent space along the strip are a Golden Crust which sells Jamaican food, a clothing store called Executive Fashions and Kaarta Imports African Fabrics.

Kaarta Tounkara, who has owned Kaarta Imports African Fabrics at the location for 20 years, said he had yet to hear about the proposal for the site.

"You don't have a choice. Whatever they make here is up to them," he said.

Tounkara's longtime customer Lioness Brown, a chef, said she wanted the store to stay. Over the years she has brought everything from jewelry to dresses and utilized the services of the store's tailor.

"He's a landmark. This is part of the culture in Harlem. Without stores like this, it doesn't feel like 125th Street," said Brown.

"We already have these name brand stores," she said gesturing to Staples, Marshalls and Dunkin' Donuts locations just east of the store closer to Lenox Avenue. "If this store was gone, I wouldn't feel at home.

City officials said the redevelopment is designed to help the 125th Street corridor grow.

“This release is a significant step towards making this site work for the community once again,” said Empire State Development Corporation President and CEO Kenneth Adams.

Harlem City Councilwoman Inez Dickens said the site will "grow our economic base and provide job opportunities to community residents. It will attract tourism dollars."

The site has frontage on both 125th and 126th streets. The new proposal will seek to maintain as many parking spaces as possible and increase 125th Strett's role as a retail and arts corridor.

The planned changes to the site were made possible by the 2008 rezoning of 125th Street. EDC has announced several large redevelopment projects along 125th Street recently, including naming a developer for the long-languishing Corn Exchange building at 125th Street and Park Avenue.

The former Taystee Bakery complex will be transformed into CREATE @ Harlem Green by Janus Partners LLC and Monadnock Construction. The commercial space will house tenants from creative industries such as Harlem Brewing Company.

Still, some people like Shabazz, a vendor who has lived in Harlem for 40 years, said he was concerned about the pace of development in Harlem.

He pointed across 125th Street to Rice High School which closed last year and to the vacant lot on the southwest corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue that was slated to be developed into a hotel and supermarket by football great Emmitt Smith.

"Look at all that empty space over there. How long has that been that way?" he asked. "I don't want expensive buildings people can't afford."

Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, chairman of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, echoed similar concerns.

"The number of economic development projects currently moving forward in Harlem have brought new life to our community, but they must find harmony with our current residents and businesses to be truly successful," he said.

Proposals are due by July 13.

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