By Yepoka Yeebo
EAST HARLEM — An uptown version of the High Line — this time under train tracks, not on top of them — could be headed to Harlem under a new plan backed by a local think tank.
The proposal, developed by the Harlem Community Development Corporation and endorsed Thursday by Center for an Urban Future, would rejuvenate East Harlem outdoor market La Marqueta by expanding it to include a mile-long stretch under the Metro North train tracks from 111th to 133rd streets on Park Avenue.
The hope is that the plan, dubbed "a High Line for Harlem," will draw both New Yorkers and tourists to East Harlem in the same way the elevated park draws visitors to Chelsea and the Meatpacking district.
There have been several proposals to revive La Marqueta, which was started in the 1930's and saw its heyday in the 1960s with 500 vendors. Despite recent renovation work, most of the stalls in the covered market are currently empty.
The new plan would see 900 vendors brought to the market.
The idea, originally suggested by the Harlem Community Development Corporation, is backed by Irwin Cohen, who helped develop Chelsea Market.
“You could have six people from different backgrounds making velvet cake, someone from China making Chinese birthday cakes, a guy from Senegal who specializes in Senegalese tea," Cohen said.
David Giles, a research associate at the Center for an Urban Future who wrote the Center's report in support of the expansion of La Marqueta, said that this plan could be successful because it recognizes that Harlem desperately needs more retail space.
"Real estate in Harlem is far more expensive than any other real estate quarter in the city with similar demographics," he said.
Giles added that the result was fewer places to shop, with 42 stores for every 100,000 residents in Harlem, compared to 49 in Washington Heights and 132 on the Upper East Side.
The idea has reportedly been presented to Community Board 11. The decision is ultimately up to the city's Economic Development Corporation, which owns the land under the Metro North tracks.