By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—The 125th Street Business Improvement District has raised half the $60,000 needed to string holiday lights along 125th Street from river to river for the first time, the group announced Thursday.
"We've come together to make sure 125th Street is not dark again," said Vince Morgan, chair of the 125th Street BID
After almost deciding to not put any lights along the historic street for the second year in a row, the community effort that brought together Harlem's three community boards is also drawing in other members of Harlem's business and civic community
"This has pulled in so many different people from around our community," said W. Franc Perry, chair of Community Board 10 which covers Central Harlem. "It doesn't matter what holiday you are celebrating, we are all celebrating Harlem."
The holiday light effort came after Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street BID, told the chairs of Harlem Community Boards that her group did not have the money to put lights up for a second year in a row, DNAinfo reported earlier this week.
Since then, the group has held the first of several planned fundraisers at Italian restaurant Settepanni that will culminate with a lighting ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building on 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
"The block associations came in and wrote checks," said Askins who said Wednesday's fundraiser added a little more than $1,500. The next fundraiser is set for Dec. 1 at Gran Piatto D'Oro.
Askins said there is also an effort in the works to try and light the state office building this year so that it is visible from downtown.
"The lights are a metaphor for the vibrancy of our community and signals to residents the viability of our commerical community. It signals to the world that we are here, excited and energized," said Jonelle Procope, president and CEO of the Apollo Theater Foundation.
The effort has led to conversations about ways to improve 125th Street.
For example, Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11 which covers East Harlem, said it sparked conversation with Askins about extending the business improvement district from river to river.
"This is about having vision and looking into the future," Washington said.
Morgan said emphasizing the culture of Harlem and 125th Street is important.
"We do it differently uptown," Morgan said. "There are folks who are naturally attracted to visiting Harlem and we want to give them more reason to stay."
Added Askins: "We want to have our culture drive the economy of the street."
Plans to improve the lighting are also in the works.
From 1994 to 2008, when the lights stretched from Morningside Avenue to Fifth Avenue, there were complaints about the design.
This year, there will be two alternating set of streamers along with a star.
The lighting will also turn into an event with churches being solicited to carol and businesses offering discounts for shopping.
The long-term goal is to have the lighting ceremony be similiar to Rockefeller Center's tree-lighting ceremony.
"This is just the beginning. 125th Street is the spine of Harlem," said Community 9 Chair Larry English. "We are not just talking about lights but looking long-term for 125th street to take its place in the city and world as one of the most vital streets in the world."