More than 30 years after the Taystee Bakery closed its doors, plans to put the long-vacant space to new use are finally getting off the ground.
The abandoned site at 125th and 126th streets, between Amsterdam and Morningside avenues, will probably become a commercial complex housing vendors from food services and other industries, potentially boosting West Harlem’s economy.
The site’s developers—Janus Property Company and Monadnock Construction, which have joined to form Taystee Create LLC —are calling the project the Taystee Building. Scott Metzner, the president of Janus, said that the joint venture will refurbish and preserve some old Taystee buildings while constructing some new, modern-looking ones.
“We consider ourselves preservationists,” Metzner said.
Until Taystee Create LLC bought the property from the New York City Economic Development Corporation in June, it had been empty since 2009, when the gourmet market Citarella was evicted. The city development corporation said in a press release that the new project will include “100,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 90,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space, and 10,000 square feet of community facility space and will create about 440 permanent jobs and 510 construction jobs.”
Metzner said the company is currently working to get the project fully approved. The company’s plans have to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for rezoning before construction can begin.
According to Metzner, the company has worked with the Department of City Planning to get the rezoning proposal approved by Community Board 7, the borough president, and the City Planning Commission, leaving only the City Council. The Taystee complex is currently situated in a zone designated for manufacturing, and development cannot begin until it is changed to a commercial zone.
Janus Property is currently designing and engineering buildings so that plans can be sent to the city’s Department of Buildings for permit approval and eventual construction, which Metzner said he hopes to begin in July 2013 and complete in a year and a half to two years.
Kirk Goodrich, director of development at Monadnock, said his company chose to work with Janus because of its history of successful projects in West Harlem and its commitment to the West Harlem community. The company has been active in West Harlem for 25 years, often renovating apartment buildings, Metzner said.
“Most developers are opportunistic—if there’s an opportunity in the Bronx, they jump to the Bronx. If there’s an opportunity in Brooklyn, they jump to Brooklyn,” Goodrich said. “But they’ve really dropped anchor here. They’re very conscientious and knowledgeable.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose Janus from a group of 15 firms that wanted to develop the Taystee Bakery site. Metzner said he hopes that West Harlem will see a surge of economic revitalization as a result of the Taystee Building project, adding that West Harlem residents have supported the project.
“We’re in and of this community,” Metzner said. “We have gotten incredible support all the way.”
Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams, though, said the large-scale plans to redevelop the site are “an unfortunate thing,” considering community efforts to preserve old buildings. Adams said it would be possible to incorporate more preservation into the development of the site, while creating more low-skill jobs.
“Something more sensitive that’s more responsive to community needs, and that’s less concerned about maximizing the profit potential, ought to be considered,” Adams said. He added that the Taystee site reflects the industrial heritage of New York, and “when they’re gone, they’ll be gone forever.”
Although no vendors have officially signed leases, one prospective vendor is the Harlem Brewing Company. By expanding into the Taystee Bakery complex, Celeste Beatty, the company’s founder, hopes to create a place for people to connect to the brewing process and have a hands-on experience.
As a “community-oriented brewery,” Harlem Brewing Company plans on growing hops for its signature Sugar Hill Beer in the complex, and allowing visitors to view the brewing process and taste the outcome.
Beatty has been a possible tenant of the Taystee Bakery Project since last year, before Janus Property had officially closed on the site. She said that she became interested in the project because of the area’s industrial history.
“This is not a new discussion for us,” she explained, adding that she has received a lot of support both from the community and from Metzner.
Other possible tenants for the complex include HerFlan, a flan company currently located at a market space in East Harlem; Carver Federal Savings Bank, the largest African-American-operated bank in the nation; and Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, which leases space to small businesses.
Goodrich said he had no reason to believe construction would be disruptive to the community, nor did he anticipate it would present any particular difficulty.
“Every project has a challenge or two, but we have a very good track record, and we’re confident we can do anything,” he said.