Significant changes coming to Harlem over the next several years aim to make the legendary neighborhood a top tourist destination as well as encouraging current residents to spend more.
While Harlem is slated to inspire tourists to do more than just pass through on tours or hop off of the subway at 125th Street for a few hours, several construction and development projects are sure to keep the community’s legacy alive while attracting locals to stop by for a visit.
The announcement of several construction projects in Harlem was made recently at the first town hall meeting presented by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC) along with the Amsterdam News. GHCC wants to host the meetings once every quarter to update residents about changes in the neighborhood.
Some of the projects announced include a new 200-room hotel where the Victoria Theater sits on 125th Street, a Red Lobster restaurant next door to the Apollo Theater, the reopening of Minton’s Playhouse and the placement of the National Jazz Museum and a New York City Visitors’ Center branch at the former site of Mart 125.
GHCC President and CEO Lloyd Williams said that the new projects, once completed, will bring jobs to Harlem, especially in the service industry. While Midtown and Downtown have always benefited from the hospitality industry, Williams said Harlem will benefit similarly.
“The good thing is that there will be many entry-
level positions in our community in the areas of cooking, chefs and waiters and waitresses,” he said. “We are going to see big growth. That industry that has been in existence for many years in Midtown is now coming uptown. We are going to have a lot of jobs, part-time and full-time. Our community needs to get itself in the same mindset of the direction of the city of New York, and the direction is in the service industry.”
Williams added that tourists who stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and view attractions will be spending even more money in the neighborhood. While he said that tourists come to Harlem from Europe and Asia, the majority of tourists, he maintains, are Black and mostly from the Tristate area and the Southern Unites States.
“The key issues are marketing and promoting nationally and internationally, and promoting Harlem to Harlemites. We have to get out to our neighbors and tell them to support our businesses,” he said.
One major project slated to start construction soon is a new hotel on 125th where the Victoria Theater currently stands. While the legendary facade of the theater will be preserved, the rest of the structure will be torn down to make way for a mixed-use building.
Kenneth Knuckles, president and CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, said that the hotel will contribute to the cultural aspects of 125th Street. “We think it’s going to be a transformative project for 125th Street,” he said. “It will galvanize and liven the initiation of the 125th Street rezoning for arts and culture.”
The 26-story building will hold a 200-room hotel. Choice Hotels, which owns brands including Cambria Suites, Clarion and Comfort Inn, has already put money behind the project. The hotel will have a ballroom and meeting spaces. Also in the building will be a 25,000-square-foot cultural space that will houses offices for Jazz Mobile, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Apollo Theater Foundation.
The building will include two black-box theaters, one seating 99 and the other seating 199. There will be 229 residential units with 50 percent at market rate, 30 percent affordable and 20 percent low-income.
A parking lot is being built below the building along with spaces for retail and restaurants. B. Smith’s, which has been a Midtown staple, and Shake Shack have expressed interest in taking space. The new building, according to Knuckles, is scheduled to be completed by 2014.
Knuckles also went into detail about the reopening of legendary jazz hub Minton’s Playhouse. Known as the “Birthplace of Bebop,” the jazz supper club on 118th Street is coming back to life thanks to former chairman of Citigroup and former CEO of Time Warner Dick Parsons and Alexander Smalls.
“We are hoping that things get started this summer,” Knuckles said. “We are waiting for the term sheet from the developers, Harlem Jazz Enterprise.”
Minton’s Playhouse opened in 1938 and closed in 1974. It was reopened in 2006 under the name Uptown Lounge at Minton’s Playhouse but closed again in 2010. The venue is located on the first floor of the former Cecil Hotel, which is used by Housing and Services Inc. to provide supportive housing.
The building has another commercial space on the first floor that Parsons and Smalls plan to develop as well.