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Languishing Corn Exchange and Taystee Bakery Sites to Be Developed

By Jeff Mays | July 13, 2011 9:07pm

HARLEM — Two languishing Harlem industrial sites - including one that has blighted the neighborhood since the 1970s - are slated to a get much-needed makeovers in what is hoped to be a shot in the arm to the local economy.

The long-decrepit Corn Exchange Building at 125th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem will become office and retail space while the former Taystee Bakery complex in West Harlem will host, among other things, a brewery, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's Economic Development Corporation announced Wednesday.

The projects, part of an effort to to strengthen the 125th Street commercial corridor, represent $116 million in private development that will provide 350,000 square feet of new commercial space and create 530 permanent jobs and 570 construction jobs, according to city officials.

"We rezoned 125th Street to strengthen the famed Harlem corridor and enhance its historic role as a vibrant arts, entertainment and retail center. These two developments are the latest examples of how well it's working," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The private sector commitments represent an enormous vote of confidence in Harlem's future and 125th Street's ongoing role in the area's revitalization."

In East Harlem, 125th Street Equities LLC will rehabilitate the landmarked base of the Corn Exchange Building and add six additional stories of office and retail space.

The building has been vacant since the 1970s and has been the subject of previously failed redevelopment efforts, including a plan to build a culinary institute. Designed by architects Lamb & Rich in the Queen Anne and "Romanesque Revival" styles, it was originally constructed for Mount Morris Bank, which was absorbed by the Corn Exchange Bank in 1913.

The top floors of the structure were dismantled in 2009 after being deemed a safety hazard by the Department of Buildings. That left behind a two-story nub which historic preservationists have bemoaned because the structure was considered one of the finest examples of architecture in Harlem.

The developer will not only rehabilitate the remnants of the building but will also "restore [it] in a manner that is consistent with its landmark status," city officials say. Because the building is landmarked all changes will have to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"The development of these two sites will create hundreds of new well-paying permanent jobs in Harlem and generate millions of dollars in private investment," EDC President Seth Pinsky said in a statement. "From East to West, momentum is gaining in the revitalization of Harlem, bringing new life and vibrancy to sites that for years had been vacant."

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 and HerFlan and preserve most of the original facade.

Harlem Brewing will move its production facility from Saratoga Springs to Harlem, as well as grow hops on the roof and open a brewing museum. And Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center will lease 53,000 square feet of manufacturing space in 1,000 to 5,000 square foot blocks to light manufacturing and artisan companies.

Both buildings have been the subject of extensive legal wrangling between the city and groups originally designated to redevelop the sites.

At the Corn Exchange, Ethel Bates, 80, lost control of the building to the city's Economic Development Corporation in 2009 after she was unable to develop the $9 million nonprofit culinary institute that she proposed after being awarded the title to the building in 2003. Bates has appealed the New York State Supreme Court decision but city officials say they have won the appeal.

Bates had vowed to fight the city for the building and was working with the city to find a developer as recently as April.

Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a neighborhood advocacy group, said she was interested in the developer's track record and whether local businesses will be able to afford space in the commercial development. The structure should also fit in with the "contextual historic culture and flavor of what it means to be in East Harlem."

Leo Blackman, an architect and former president and board member of the Historic Districts Council said he was pleased to hear that the base of the building was being restored and hoped that the new addition would preserve a reflection of what was there. The building is important because of its location next to the Metro-North tracks which gives those entering Harlem a first impression, preservationists say.

"If they put a reflective glass box atop the base and call it a day that would be tragic," Blackman said. "It would be great if the city held the developer to a higher standard."

Earlier this year a court upheld the city's eviction of gourmet grocery chain Citarella, which had opened a store in a portion of the 134,000 sq. ft. Taystee complex fronted on West 125th street. The city contended that Citarella failed to fulfill its agreement to develop warehouse space when the six-building property, at 461 W. 125th st. and 426-458 W. 126th St., was purchased for $850,000 in 1999.

Citarella vacated the store on April 18, leaving 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."

City officials said they feel confident moving forward on both projects because title to both properties was returned to the city by the New York State Supreme Court.

Larry English, former chair of Community Board 9, demanded that the community get more input on the project and EDC President Seth Pinsky agreed to give the board's executive committee more input than it would have had.

English said that he was pleased with the EDC's decision because Janus is a local developer and the board's executive committee had a strong affinity to the project that was chosen.

"We wanted a commercial project to ignite other development along 125th Street. There were other projects that had a residential component but we saw 125th Street as a commercial corridor," English said.

Now English said he'd like the board to make sure that minority and women firms are represented when it comes to the construction and development of the site.

"EDC did a great job of keeping us involved and using our input in shaping the project but that's not the finished product," English said. "There must be significant women and minority participation from top to bottom."