Vacant 125th Street Mart to Become Digital Media Space
HARLEM — The long-vacant Mart 125 on 125th Street won't be empty for long, the 125th Street Business Improvement District revealed Thursday.
The 67,000-square-foot single story building between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. boulevards will contain a ground floor digital interactive media space, restaurants and two Harlem-based non-profits that focus on journalism and documentary film-making, organizers said.
A third "media entity" will take space on the 124th Street side of the project.
"A parcel that sits directly across from the Apollo is a good opportunity to make into a cultural site," said Kenneth Knuckles, president and CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone who said his group is stepping beyond its usual role as financier and developing the project after previous failed attempts.
Mart 125 opened in 1986 as an indoor market designed to provide former street vendors with the opportunity to establish brick and mortar businesses. It was closed in 2001 by the Giuliani Administration after promised business training was never delivered and the businesses there failed to cement a solid customer base.
The building has been vacant ever since, with several plans to turn it into a cultural space falling through.
"We believe the project is realizable, doable and will add a rich cultural presence that will synergize with the Apollo and the Studio Museum and would further the identity of 125th Street as a primary cultural corridor," said Knuckles, adding that the group has been working on the project's concept for about a year.
He declined to disclose who the new occupants might be and did not give a timeline for when the project would begin construction.
Meanwhile, a Banana Republic Factory Store will be located just across the street from Mart 125 on the ground floor of a new project that currently hosts a Red Lobster, said Scott Auster, a managing director at Grid Properties and chair of the 125th Street Business Improvement District's real estate development committee.
The company developed Harlem USA, a mall at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 125th Street that contains a movie theater and other stores and is credited with opening the door to national retailers along the street. That complex hosts an Old Navy. Just east is a Gap outlet store.
"The next group of projects that we see on 125th Street may not be the mega projects like the Whole Foods but infill retail development," said Grid Properties principal Drew Greenwald, referring to the Whole Foods currently under construction on Lenox Avenue and 125th Street.
Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said the Mart 125 project and the new Banana Republic show the effort to "provide the right mix of product and services people want on 125th Street while balancing the desire to retain the cultural element there."
Carl Weisbrod, director of the Department of City Planning, Weisbrod said he understood residents' concerns about overdevelopment on 125th Street.
"There are real concerns about increased density and what increased density brings," Weisbrod said.
To address those issues, Weisbrod said City Planning will be taking a "very active" role in the development of the city's 10-year capital budget plan to keep development in check.
Blondel Pinnock, senior vice president at Carver Federal Savings Bank and chairwoman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said that type of thoughtfulness is needed amid the development frenzy.
Over the last 36 months, 125th Street has seen more new construction than anytime over the last 15 years, Pinnock said.
"It is now time to reevaluate, determine what works and what doesn't and plan for the next 20 years," she said.