A casual stroll through Harlem nowadays, from river to river, can’t be done without noticing cranes like praying mantises looming over construction projects. Right next door to the Apollo Theater is the steel framework of, when completed, the location of Red Lobster. On the corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 125th Street is a massive complex that will house a number of major retail giants.
Down the block, which has been designated the platinum zone because of the high price of space per square foot, is huge vacant lot where, if plans pan out, will be the site of a Whole Foods store.
Almost across the street from this location, according to the latest reports, the National Urban League (NUL) will return to Harlem to establish its headquarters and thereby renew its long and productive relationship with the historic community that began in 1910 with the founding of organization.
“The actual location for our headquarters and the complex is right next to the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building,” said Charles Hamilton, a spokesperson for the NUL. “It will be in the spot currently occupied by the parking garage.”
Hamilton said the garage will be torn down and a 17-story building will be erected, which will include a public parking facility with 225 spaces and 114 affordable rental units.
The plans for the project, which is another key piece in the ever-increasing building boom in Harlem, were announced at the end of February by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Cuomo said the project is part of Harlem’s ongoing renaissance. “It will create jobs, build on the community’s rich arts and cultural history, and attract new investments and opportunities,” the governor said in a press release.
Mayor Bloomberg was equally ecstatic about the new development and explained that it will be more than just the headquarters for NUL. He said, in a statement to the press, “…it [the NUL] will be an important piece of the area’s ongoing revitalization, celebrating Harlem’s rich history while generating critical economic activity that will ensure its even brighter future.”
With the headquarters at the center, the 42,000 square foot complex will include a museum chronicling the Urban Civil Rights experience; a conference center, and retail, affordable housing, and public parking.
“As we undertake our own building project in Harlem,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the NUL, “we feel even more closely entwined with the city that we love. We are grateful for the support of Gov. Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and numerous elected officials and community leaders in this endeavor.”
Morial, in a press statement, extended his appreciation to Meredith Marshall, Managing Partner and Founder of BRP Development Corp. and his team for putting the proposal together. Another partner in the enterprise is Hudson Companies, and the groundbreaking is slated for 2015.
Congressman Charles Rangel expressed his excitement about the project, noting that the NUL and the revitalization of the property “has the potential to bring much-needed jobs and new investment to the cultural center of Harlem.” And of particular interests to him was the plan to create the first civil rights museum in New York.
“I am pleased that one of the foremost advocates of the urban agenda, the National Urban League, will be returning to the community where it was initially established,” said Councilmember Inez E. Dickens. “Furthermore, this public/private sector project will produce an attractive cultural bonus that will reinforce and enrich Harlem international reputation as one of the major worldwide cultural destinations.”