Have We Lost Harlem?

less economically capable, and could result in its cultural death.

“What has happened is [that] market forces have come to the realization that Harlem is one of the last frontiers,” explains Kenneth J. Knuckles, the third president of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ). Based in Harlem, UMEZ is part of the $5 billion Federal Empowerment Program spearheaded by Harlem representative Charles Rangel. “It is centrally located. It has one of the best transportation systems in the city, you can get anywhere in New York City from here. It has beautiful architecture and some of the best brownstones anywhere in the city,” says Knuckles.

Matthew King II, owner of MK Capital Resources L.L.C., echoes his point. “If you want to live in New York City, particularly Manhattan, and you can’t afford the downtown rents, you’re going to start to move into areas you wouldn’t have normally considered.”

At the height of the boom, during the late ’80s through 1999, Harlem properties were considered “steals” for middle- class professionals. Almost all of Harlem’s new property owners who have smugly settled into their new brownstone homes or completed residential renovations would say, “We were lucky. We got in at the right time.” Then, brownstones ranged in price from $50,000 to $250,000.

“It’s amazing,” exclaims King, 32, who formed his company in April 2002 and purchased his first brownstone in a partnership deal for $500,000 in 2000. He bought his partners out in 2002 for $610,000. Currently in the midst of renovations, his property is now worth $695,000. “I grew up on 159th [street] and watched [Harlem] go from abandonment to the development we have today. What’s more shocking to me than anything else is the [rise in] property value.”

Harlemites who are among the area’s long-time property owners, and who have decided to sell, have seen a great return on their investment — especially those who have long paid off their mortgages. Today, with shells (unfurnished, non-occupiable residences) starting at $500,000 to $700,000, two- and four-story dwellings have already sold for as much as $1.3 million.

And the race to bring goods and services to the more than 300,000 people who live and work in Harlem has engaged not only mega properties such as HMV, Disney, Starbucks, Staples, H&M, and Marshall’s but small business owners, including many African American entrepreneurs who own a variety of enterprises from boutiques to restaurants. The business boom has, in turn, quickened the pace of revitalization.

Construction plans and projects are unfolding throughout Harlem. Since it’s inception in 1994, UMEZ has invested approximately $100 million into upper Manhattan. Fiscal reports for 2001 and 2002 show that UMEZ committed close to $41 million to upper Manhattan investments, with 81% of those investments going toward business development. The rest has been spent on tourism, cultural preservation, and workforce development initiatives. “Our original mandate was 10 years — from 1994 to 2004. At the end of 2000, our life was extended to 2009 as a result of the tax relief act of 2000,” explains