The National Urban League (NUL) and local officials kicked off construction on the civil rights organization’s $242 million, 414,000-square-foot Urban League Empowerment Center on Thursday, June 17 at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Officue Building in Harlem.
The building will be located on 125th Street and will house NUL’s national headquarters, the Urban Civil Rights Museum Experience and the NUL Institute for Race, Equity and Justice along with offices for community groups including One Hundred Black Men of New York, United Negro College Fund New York and Jazzmobile Inc.
Retail space will feature Target and Trader Joe’s and 170 units of affordable housing will be built. The project is scheduled to be completed by January 2025.
NUL was founded in Harlem in 1910 in response to the Great Migrations that brought millions of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North. The organization’s headquarters are currently in lower Manhattan and they are facing the end of their lease there.
NUL President and CEO Marc Morial told the AmNews that the organization received offers from other cities to relocate its headquarters. “We began to evaluate the best option for us,” he said. “We made a decision that if we were going to stay in New York, we had to own our own space and we had to do something that was spectacular and innovative.”
The space, located Malcolm X Boulevard, was owned by the city and state who asked for proposals, which NUL responded to. The organization won the space in 2012 and for the last nine years has been preparing to begin construction.
“This project is the most significant project built in Harlem in 50 years,” Morial said. “It will be Black-owned. We are not a tenant. We wanted to demonstrate to people that you could do a project with African American professionals and African American ownership.”
Those working on the project include Black developer Meredith Marshall, who is co-founder and managing partner of BRP Companies, and African American financial advisor Margaret Anadu, who serves as Global Head of Sustainability and Impact for Goldman Sachs Asset Management.
The architect for the project is the Black-owned firm The Switzer Group headed by Lou Switzer. Black attorney Charles J. Hamilton, Jr., senior counsel at Windels Marx, is leading the project’s legal arm.
Morial said jobs will be created from the retailers in the space. Target has an initiative to increase the number of Black suppliers it purchases merchandise from. Jobs will also come from the civil rights museum, which Morial says will attract tens of thousands of visitors.
There is a goal to have the construction workforce of the project to be 35% Black, however, Morial said he wants to exceed that goal.
Elected officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Harlem Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, former Gov. David Paterson and New York County Democratic Committee Keith Wright attended Thursday’s kickoff event
NAACP State Conference President Hazel Dukes, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Herbert Daughtry of Brooklyn’s House of the Lord Church and One Hundred Black Men of New York President Michael J. Garner were also on hand.
“With the National Urban League coming and bringing their national headquarters in and joining us, Harlem again becomes the epicenter for civil rights in the United States of America,” Sharpton said.
Dickens said NUL’s arrival to Harlem is welcomed after the neighborhood struggled with health, housing, employment and economic issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. She committed to fighting in the state legislature for the organization.
“What the National Urban League is doing today is breaking ground for the most fantastic employment opportunity and housing opportunity,” she said. “The village of Harlem is now going to have a resource to fight pandemics of underemployment, unemployment, lack of employment, lack of housing [and] lack of affordable housing.”
De Blasio said Morial approached him about the project years ago and he was eager to offer his assistance.
“Economic empowerment is what matters if we are going to change the lives of people in this community and all around the country and that’s what the Urban League stands for,” de Blasio said.