Harlem has 16 options for the former Citarella development on 125th and 126th streets—but choosing between them is, so far, a complicated process.
New York City’s Economic Development Corporation met with Harlem’s Community Board 9 on Tuesday night to hear locals’ preferred ideas for the site, which varied from affordable housing to manufacturing and artistic space.
The project will occupy the former Taystee Bakery site, which includes five vacant buildings and one that contained Citarella, offices, and storage. The grocery store was evicted in June 2009 after its developer failed to keep its promises to fill office and retail space in the surrounding buildings, and control of the property’s future was passed to the EDC, which accepted the 16 proposals in late January.
“We were very pleased with what we received,” said Carolee Fink, vice president of government and community relations at EDC and project manager of the Taystee Development site.
“People are very interested in this part of the city and the market is coming back. It also showed us the different types of uses that would be useful to this community,” she said.
According to Fink, only five of the proposals were fully non-residential, which became a point of contention for local residents who said housing wouldn’t do enough to create jobs in the area.
“While we remain committed to affordable housing and housing in general, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a unique development project,” said Larry English, chair of CB9.
“When you come to West Harlem, there is no commercial activity. While I believe it is important to always look at the opportunity to provide affordable housing, there are only a few aspects where we focus on commercial activity and this is one of those areas,” he said.
Javier Carcamo, assistant chair of the CB9 Land Use and Zoning committee, agreed that the focus should be on projects with offices and manufacturing uses.
“We need the mixing of these uses as a way to maintain foot traffic a long portion of the day. A lot of retail fails because it is a predominately residential community,” he said.
CB9 members also stressed that their main goal was to transform the relatively dead area near Amsterdam Avenue into a more active neighborhood around the clock.
“When you have a community who has artists, they don’t work for 9-5 p.m. and that creates a new atmosphere,” said Christa Giesecke, chair of the Land Use and Zoning Committee. “Don’t forget that we lost a lot due to Columbia’s development. We need to make sure that we get space back, maybe housing for artists, studios, cafés, and restaurants.”
“Most people are gone during the day. Retail won’t survive without manufacturing and offices to help fuel business during the day,” Carcamo said.
English emphasized his desire for the project to have an artistic aspect as well.
“Culture is the oil of Harlem. Any project on that site has to have that component because that is what West Harlem and Harlem is about,” said English.
Toward the close of the meeting, both CB9 members and EDC representative stressed that they want to do this process properly—no matter the land’s eventual use—so they do not have to do this again in five years.
“At the end of the day, we are going to have answer to a future generation on that property. CB9 is assuming that responsibility. This is a valuable asset that ought to maximize the community,” English said.