Thursday, November 18, 2010

Back to the Future in Harlem

An interesting coincidence. Yesterday we had a conversation with a local East Harlem Council elected official, who expressed concerns that Wal-Mart may be targeted the neighborhood. Soon after that conversation, we read the following from Crain's: "The city is tired of waiting for gourmet grocer Citarella to move out of its Harlem store, so it has invited others to submit proposals on what they would do with the real estate. A court ruling last year found that Citarella, which bought a collection of six buildings on West 125th Street and West 126th Street from the city for a song—$850,000—violated the terms of its 1999 purchase agreement with the city. "

Could this be a great site for one of Wal-Mart's so called, "neighborhood markets?" We can see it-and maybe EDC does as well: "The opportunity to redevelop the former Taystee Bakery Complex represents a chance to bring economic activity and new jobs to West Harlem,” said Seth Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp., in a prepared statement. “We look forward to reviewing the responses and moving as quickly as possible to reactivate this important site.”

It certainly would be big enough-it is a three acre site of 134,000 square feet. But the local community board is being vigilant while the DCP rezones the area: "The Department of City Planning is currently conducting a rezoning study of the West Harlem neighborhood, which could result in a rezoning of the Taystee Bakery Complex to allow for some of the buildings to be converted to residential units. In a statement, Community Board Nine Chair Larry English said the board “considers the Citarella properties to be one of the most viable and important development opportunities in West Harlem. CB9 will be working with the EDC to make sure any new development comports with the vision of the community.”

Vision is, however, very much in the eye of the beholder-and with EDC it is often tunnel vision. But all of this brings us back to the nineties and the fight over the building of a Pathmark store on 125th Street. With Wal-Mart looking to build 15 stores in NYC-according to public speculation-the opponents of Big Wally need to be prepared to fight the retail giant on any number of fronts.

An oversight occured in East New York when the city council approved the expansion of Gateway Estates Mall with no restrictions on a future Wal-Mart-leading to the current furor. Suffice it to say that this is one mistake that won't be repeated-and every available real estate site will be scrutinized carefully. As we used to say on the street back in the day: "Once burnt, twice learnt."