June 1, 2003
Have We Lost Harlem?
buy up Harlem.'” Four of them purchased their first homes in Harlem ranging from $150,000 to $200,000 — all within a four-block radius of the historic Strivers Row and Hamilton Heights areas. Each property required an additional $200,000 to $300,000 in renovations.
Wright’s property was an SRO (single-room occupancy) with nine apartments for which he paid approximately $200,000 in 1998. He had originally set his sights on Tribeca, a trendy section of lower Manhattan but, “It wasn’t financially feasible for me at the level I would have wanted it. That same brownstone downtown on Waverly [Street] is $4 million or $5 million.” Wright pays $2,800 for 4,000 square feet of office space in Harlem. His monthly office rent in Tribeca was $24,000 for roughly the same amount of space.
“Ten years ago, you could have rented a square foot on 125th Street for between $15 and $25,” recalls Myers. “Today, many corporations are asking more than $125 a square foot. Increasing rents and the influx of large commercial properties have driven some out of business, including a number of longstanding favorites, such as Well’s, best known for chicken and waffles, and 22 West (or Twenty-Two West), a breakfast spot that often hosted local politicians and businessmen, and the place Malcolm X used to meet and socialize with people.”
NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL
One of the criticisms of the revitalization efforts has been the seeming lack of control on the local level. “The issue is how much impact do Harlemites have on what comes into their community?” asks Lloyd A. Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of that has to do with the politics of Harlem, and that is because the organizations that impact the decision making have, heretofore, been mainly government organizations.”
UMEZ, which is based in Harlem, has received praise — and much criticism. But Randy Daniels, the current secretary of state in Gov. George Pataki’s administration, has also been a force in commercializing Harlem. Working through the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and the Metropolitan Economic Revitalization Fund (MERF) — in conjunction with local church-based development group Abyssinian Development Corporation — Daniels’ current project is the Harlem Center, a shopping center that promises to bring 2,000 jobs to the community. Moody stresses that much of the planning for these developments, by these organizations and others, went on at a time when the former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, refused to meet with black elected city officials, namely Rangel and Fields.
Knuckles argues that the frustration surrounding the UMEZ’s involvement in Harlem’s revitalization is misplaced. “Those mega deals, which have not characterized the Zone’s activity at all, are most readily identified with the Empowerment Zone,” he explains. “The real benefit, however, is jobs. There are between 300 and 400 jobs supplied by Harlem USA and those jobs, for the most part, went to residents of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.”
Knuckles further argues that Harlem has benefited overall from having increased services. “This community, like a number of other communities,