Aside from the squabbling chickens peeking their heads out of the live poultry shop on the corner, 126th street is otherwise quiet as it winds its way from Amsterdam to Morningside Avenue.
Last month, Community Board 9’s Waterfront and Economic Development Committee discussed the redevelopment of the north side of this street, which, decades ago, was filled by the scent of fresh bread from a large bakery known as the Taystee cake factory.
Yet CB9’s plans for redevelopment continue to be thwarted by an ongoing lawsuit filed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation against Citarella, the gourmet market which opened its 125th Street location in 1999 and bought the 40,800 square-foot, city-owned site at 126th Street in 2001.
According to Savona Bailey-McClain, co-chair of the CB9 committee, Citarella was supposed to “develop a fish-processing center,” but “a roof collapsed, and then there were questions of who would pay and how it would be restored.”
McClain said the NYCEDC claims that “Citarella did not fulfill the obligations of the deed” on the grounds that the market purchased another fish processing site in the Bronx, and kept the 126th St. lot vacant.
According to Janel Patterson, NYCEDC spokesperson, the committee is currently in court with a “litigation to recover the property.” She added that there is a “motion for some re-judgment.”
Patterson had no comment on future plans if the NYCEDC recovers the property from Citarella.
“We want to bring all parties together and figure out what would make everyone happy,” Bailey-McClain said of CB9’s role in what she called the “huge battle.”
Bailey-McClain expressed frustration over the dispute. “We always saw a mixed-used property here, but we may not get that opportunity. We are at a legal standstill,” she said, adding that Citarella could lose the space, leaving it empty for another five to 10 years.
Raymond Boykin, a neighborhood resident, shared Bailey-McClain’s discontent. “It has to be developed. It’s a huge eyesore,” he said.
Luzella Ratliff, who lives next door to the vacant property, remembered when Taystee was open. “It was great, really great,” she said. “They should fix it up. It has been vacant for so many years.”
Community leaders agree upon the need to build up the area where Taystee formerly operated. CB9 Chair Pat Jones said that any development would help 126th street and the community at large. “At the end of the day, we need something to enliven the streets, something that could provide some employment for local residents” Jones said.
Jones added that she would be happy if the open building were filled with any combination of an artists’ space, residential housing, light manufacturing, or a play space for children.
Marie Gray, who provides services to families next door to the former Taystee building, was delighted at the idea of a community center.
“Kids have to go so far to find somewhere to play,” Gray said. “We need something family-oriented.”
After finalizing green developments for an old marine transfer station on W. 135th street, Bailey-McClain and Jones agreed that environmentally related efforts should be included in development.
McClain said she hopes to implement “solar panels and a green roof,” especially to help mitigate the pollution from a bus depot on W. 129th street.
But Jones emphasized that economic development is the most important goal.
While Boykin said he would like to see the property be used for affordable housing, McClain argued that this would be less productive than developing office space for startup businesses. “We don’t want people in debt before they even open their doors,” she said. “A mix-used development has to be sustainable.”
Joseph Gurrera, owner of Citarella, declined to comment.