HARLEM — Harlem is growing so quickly as a destination that there is a demand for 1,500 additional hotel rooms that isn't being met, speakers said at Wednesday's second-annual Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference.
Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said a study his group paid for showed that Harlem was short by 1,500 hotel rooms. Even future growth in the hotel industry doesn't match demand.
A new hotel planned for the old Victoria Theater on 125th Street will have 210 rooms and another near Columbia University's West Harlem expansion has plans for 230 rooms.
"The lodging industry is still sorely lagging in Harlem," Archer said.
Part of that growth could be met if the state clarified regulations for hostels and bed and breakfasts, said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, founder and president of Empire Government Strategies, LLC, a marketing firm.
"The average hostel guest doesn't want to be in the middle of Manhattan," said Kremer. "Harlem has this phenomenal mystique. The development of more hostels would be a tremendous economic generator."
Steve Williams, managing partner of Danforth Development Partners, LLC, which is redeveloping the Victoria, said the site will satisfy many needs for the area. In addition to the 210 room hotel that are likely to be built in a suites concept to attract families, there will be 229 affordable and market-rate apartments.
Local cultural and arts groups will also have space and there will be 25,000 square feet of retail. A 5,000-square-foot ballroom will also satisfy a pent-up demand in Harlem, Williams said.
When the idea for a hotel on 125th Street was floated a few years ago, Williams said the response was not positive.
"It was looked at skeptically. People didn't feel the demographics were here and Harlem was still shedding the image of being a dangerous place to be after the sun sets," Williams said.
Now that the Aloft Harlem hotel is on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and the Urban League has plans to bring its national headquarters and housing to 125th Street, things have changed.
"I live in Harlem and when I wake up in the morning I hear the sound of people pulling their luggage behind them," Williams said. "Soon, Harlem will be seen as a hotel destination."
The conference, organized by business development group Harlem Park to Park, was designed to give Harlem businesses insider information from top industry names about the growth of the restaurant and hospitality sector.
If it wasn't for soul-food maven and entrepreneur Sylvia Woods, Wednesday's second annual Harlem Hospitality and Culinary Conference might not be taking place, said chef Alexander Smalls, co-owner of two new Harlem restaurants, The Cecil and Minton's, a jazz supper club.
For decades, Woods, who died in 2012, operated one of the few Harlem restaurants known outside of the neighborhood's borders. Now the area around 126th Street and Lenox Avenue is experiencing a restaurant renaissance and Sylvia's is planning a massive expansion.
"Coming together, working together, that's what we do," said Woods' granddaughter, Tren'ness Woods-Black, one of three generations of the Woods family that runs the business.
Now, said Smalls, Harlem is increasingly becoming a destination.
"Harlem is an international community so everyone is a client," he said.
Sylvia's has created a model that other businesses would do well to emulate, said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, president of Harlem Park to Park.
"Sylvia's is the epitome of the mom and pop success story because they have expanded into a global, multi-million brand," said Evans-Hendricks. "That's why this conference and the dialogue and conversations it is sparking are so important."