By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The effort to string holiday lights river to river along 125th Street for the first time has a new partner — and a new theme song urging "Harlem, Light it Up!
The video for the song, "Turn the Lights On," by Mecka/Melanie, features Harlem politicians, residents and business leaders urging Harlem to light up 125th Street for the holiday season. The video shows the marquee of the Apollo Theater reading, "HARLEM, LIGHT IT UP!" and is interspersed with pictures of Harlem spots like the Rucker Basketball courts and appeals by shopkeepers along 125th to turn the lights on this December.
Adding to the festivities planned for the Dec. 7 street lighting, the Riverside Park Fund has joined with the 125th Street Business Improvement District to light a tree at the $20 million West Harlem Piers Park for the first time.
"The tree did grow out of this effort. When they heard what we were doing, they were really excited and that's how they came on board," said Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street BID, of the Riverside Park Fund's decision to help sponsor the event.
Askins said $48,000 of the $60,000 needed to string the lights has already been donated, and with a week to go, she is confident they will reach that goal. The groups are holding a fundraiser for the event Tuesday night at Italian restaurant Gran Piatto D'Oro, on Fifth Avenue between 116th and 117th streets.
Weather permitting, technicians will begin putting up the wiring for the lights Tuesday.
"I feel good about the space we are in because we are almost there. I'm surprised but I'm also learning how much this meant to people," said Askins.
The effort to light the length of 125th Street started when Askins informed the community that the BID did not have the money to light the street for the second year in a row. The chairs of the three community boards in Harlem — 9, 10 and 11 — joined to offer to help raise the money to make sure that 125th Street, the area's central business district, did not go dark.
The lighting is seen as an effort to encourage residents to patronize the many shops and restaurants on 125th Street this holiday season.
As word of the event has spread, Askins said more and more people keep stepping up. The video, filmed by Harlem's Hip Hop Culture Center, is one example. The lighting ceremony at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building is another. Askins said officials there stepped up to set up the ceremony.
"I'm seeing such a spirit of cooperation. People are calling to be a part of ceremony and we have to turn people down." said Askins. "It's really starting to build because people are already asking about next year's event."