HARLEM — Four businesses displaced by a project to build the National Urban League's headquarters and a civil rights museum on 125th Street say they plan to sue the state after the Public Authorities Control Board granted approval for the plan to move forward.
The board approved Wednesday the signing of a 99-year lease where the existing four-story 160,000 square foot building between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard will be demolished and replaced with a 460,000 square foot structure. The National Urban League will pay $1 million per year to lease the land.
The $250 million project includes the state's first civil rights museum, a conference center, 114 units of affordable rental housing, retail space and a 225-car public garage.
Four businesses, Fishers of Men, Kaarta Imports, Golden Krust and Sarku Japan, say being forced to move will likely put them out of business. The state's offer of $250,000 low interest loan and techincal relocation assitance is inadequate say the businesses and state Sen. Bill Perkins, who has criticized the project.
"It's an ominous day when the governor of this state and the leadership of the Urban League are accomplice to a deal that subjects four outstanding entrepreneurs to being put out of business. Why couldn't the vision for this project include them?" asked Perkins.
The business owners have collected petitions in an effort to lobby Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The National Urban League did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said the project will be a boon for Harlem by bringing jobs and visitors to the civil rights museum. The organization was founded in Harlem about 100 years ago.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, has said the business owners will be given a "fair opportunity" to return to the site.
But at projected rental rates that are $115 to $135 higher per square foot than the business owners' current lease, all say they will be unable to afford space in the new building. A competing proposal that was originally supported by some local politicians would have allowed the stores to stay, they say.
Some Harlem leaders accused Cuomo of favoring the Urban League proposal in exchange for Morial's support in winning the black vote should he throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential election.
Perkins said that the businesses, who stayed and came to Harlem during less prosperous times, should be rewarded, not punished.
"How does a civil rights organization of national stature facilitate the displacement of minority businesses?" he said. "I can see Dr. King turning over and asking what has happened to the movement."