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Harlem Businesses Slated to be Displaced Petition the Governor for Help

By Ben Fractenberg | November 19, 2013 7:22pm
 State Sen. Bill Perkins gathered signatures asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to help keep small businesses on 125th Street from being displaced because of a National Urban League development project, Nov. 10, 2013.
Bill Perkins Urban League Development Presser
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HARLEM — A group of small business owners afraid they will be displaced on 125th Street because of a civil rights group's development project are taking their fight to the governor, urging him to halt the plan.

The businesses — which include Fishers of Men, Kaarta Imports, Golden Krust and Sarku Japan — said they will be forced to move after the National Urban League builds its headquarters on Harlem's main commercial strip between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue.

"I think that the governor can either be a hero and help them through this challenging period or not and facilitate their demise," said State Sen. Bill Perkins during a press conference at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building Tuesday afternoon. "He can either help them, continue on this path of success or be an accomplice to what I believe will be their demise."

The group collected hundreds of signatures from people who support the businesses, which they intend send to Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday.

The petition does not call for the governor to remove his support of the project, but that the businesses "be incorporated in any new development plans being proposed and allowed to stay right where they are."

The NUL headquarters would be built in a space currently used as parking garage. The site would also house the state's first civil rights museum, a conference center, 114 units of affordable housing, retail space and a 225-car public garage.

The Empire State Development board voted unanimously Monday to support the project.

"There is broad-based support for the National Urban League’s plan to open the state’s first civil rights museum, move their headquarters to Harlem, and offer much needed affordable housing and community facility space," an ESD spokesman said. "ESD continues to work with the current tenants to offer assistance for relocation when their leases expire and to ensure that they have priority consideration when the new building is complete."

The business owners said that does not help their current situation.

They were offered a $250,000 loan to cover moving costs, but said that is still not enough to ensure their stores will survive.

"There's no relocation available on 125th Street and nothing can replace where we are," said Sarku Japan owner Raj Whadwa. "I don't see any other street or block that can replace this block."

Whadwa added that he took out a $700,000 loan to help start his business.

"If I have to leave this place I don't know how I'm going to pay it back."

The project has also received the backing from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Other business owners reiterated that they are not against development.

"With any new project coming to 125th Street, it was a benefit to the community," said Joseph Benbow, who owns seafood restaurant Fishers of Men. "It's not that we are against what they are trying to do. We just want to continue to be a part of it."

The Public Authorities Control Board will vote Wednesday whether on not to allow public financing for the project.