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East Harlem Merchants Want City to Speed Up Development Project

By Jeff Mays | March 18, 2011 10:43am

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Business owners in an East Harlem redevelopment zone want the city to speed up the process of purchasing their properties.

The East Harlem Alliance of Responsible Merchants are made up of remaining property owners in a six acre redevelopment zone that stretches from East 125th to East 127th streets from Second to Third avenues.

The $700 million East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center is a 1.7 million square foot project for that zone that is expected to include affordable housing, retail and cultural space and create at least 1,500 permanent jobs.

The first major project, 49 units of affordable housing and 5,600 square feet of retail space at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and East 125th Street, is nearing completion. It cost $23 million and created 100 construction jobs and five permanent jobs.

But Michael Kramer, a lawyer and spokesperson for the group, said the owners of the several remaining properties feel like they are in limbo. Remaining business include a dry cleaners, a gas station and a motorcycle shop.

"We can't invest, create more jobs or make new leases because the city has the hammer now and we are forced to sit and wait," said Kramer. "All around us the city has been buying properties, condemning them and leaving them empty and we stand out."

Kramer said one of the group's members, Fancy Cleaners, wants to expand but can't do so. They also can't look for a new location because the city is the only legitimate buyer for their building.

Julie Wood, vice president of public affairs for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said the city is moving forward on the project.

The area in question has been designated as an Urban Renewal Area, to remove blight, since 1968. The blight study found almost two dozen vacant lots, buildings in poor condition and environmental conditions from soil contamination.

"We have met with all the property owners in the past and we are always willing to talk with them," Wood said. "In the meantime, we are working to advance this project which has enormous public benefits – including the creation of thousands of jobs, hundreds of units of affordable housing and community, cultural and open space, all on primarily underutilized land."

Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11, would like to see a suitable solution for these property owners.

"I cannot speak to the true value of the properties, but we would like to see a resolution for these business owners who are also part of the community," said Washington.

"The community wants to see productive development, we want to see a place where we can employ the members of our community," he added. "But we also have great interest in making sure the area is developed appropriately for all the members of the community."

Kramer said the property owners would rather stay but realize they have exhausted all of their legal options and must leave.

"Communicate with us and offer us a fair deal," Kramer said. "They would much prefer to stay and go about their business but the only thing we are asking for now is a fairness."