Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rethinking 125th St.

August 30, 2005 in Living uptown Permalink Comments (0)

Source: The Real Deal

Rethinking 125th Street
A two-year study tackling the future of Harlem's central artery will recommend a new look
By Matthew Strozier

A rendering of Harlem Park
on 125th Street.

Harlem's 125th Street can be a Challenge � to drive on, walk down, shop along and even to go to work. Neighborhood leaders, city planners and developers would like to change that.

In December 2003, the city began a major planning study of the thoroughfare, Harlem's main street and one of the city's major east-west corridors. With developers interested in the street, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the time seemed right to plan for the future.

The study, which is near completion, covers an area stretching from river to river. It revolves around one question: What should 125th Street become?

"It's obviously in need of change," said City Council member Bill Perkins, whose district includes parts of 125th Street. "There is a lot of congestion. It's about time that we started to look at it."

Interest from developers also has some worried that the street will become a canyon of towers. Already, the planned 29-story Harlem Park, which includes a Marriott Courtyard and more than 660,000 square feet, has sparked opposition.

Perkins called it a "monstrosity" that is "totally out of context and should not be used as the standard for what is coming next." The Planning Commission, he said, should not have approved it. "They sort of jumped the gun on the process."

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, during the groundbreaking in February, hailed the $236 million project as proof that "Harlem's renaissance is moving forward at full-speed." The building is being developed by 1800 Park Avenue LLC, led by developer Michael Caridi. It is hoping to announce a deal with Brand Jordan, a division of Nike, to open its flagship store, which would anchor 62,000 square feet of new retail space, the New York Times reported in April.

Ground-floor retail rents have surged dramatically along the avenue during the past year, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. Average rents on the corridor shot up 38 percent to $90 a square foot, among the highest retail strip increases in Manhattan. It was the largest increase since the board started tracking the corridor.

The office market remains small but expensive compared to other parts of Manhattan. Suzanne Sunshine, vice president at CB Richard Ellis, said that tenants are lucky to find raw space for $26 a square foot in Harlem. In Midtown South or Downtown that rent could get built-out space, possibly with some months of free rent, Sunshine said. This forces many nonprofits to move downtown instead of Harlem, which is their first choice, she said.

Topics covered by the ongoing study have been extensive, including outdated zoning, congestion and obstructed sidewalks. Suggestions are varied, from replacing roll-down gates to a designated bus lane.

Members of the study's advisory committee claim existing zoning stifles development. The street has large sections with low-density areas, but patches of high-density development mixed in, creating an uneven character and limited redevelopment options. There are relatively few housing units compared to similar streets in Manhattan, and vacant upper floors.

There has been no recent residential construction along 125th Street, and it's unclear how much residential demand exists for the busy street, though development throughout the rest of Harlem is booming. Harlem Park's plans include 100 condominiums. The study points out that the street currently lacks enough housing to lure restaurants and other nighttime uses.

One member of Community Board 9 said it will be difficult to reach a consensus on a vision for 125th Street, though it will likely be a mix of office towers, housing, entertainment and small business.

"There is going to be some changes," said Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, chairman of Community Board 9, adding he hopes the street's small businesses remain.

The next advisory committee meeting, on zoning issues, will be held in the fall. A final report is expected in January.


August 28, 2005 in Living uptown Permalink Comments (2)

Harlem - not so affordable anymore
Source: NY Post
By Katherine Dykstra

August 6, 2005 -- Finding an affordable rental in Harlem is just about as easy as, well, finding an affordable rental on the Upper West Side, in the Village or in Hell's Kitchen. Read: It ain't that easy.

With building after building being razed or renovated, real estate in Harlem is as frenzied as anywhere else on the island. So what's a renter to do?

Try some unconventional search tactics, of course. That's what our reporter did, and she found the perfect apartment - in her price range! - in two days. Here's her story:

Day 1:

I began my search at City College of New York (138th Street and Convent Avenue). Rumor had it there were student bulletin boards covered with rental postings. (Columbia University, Barnard College and Bank Street College are other places to try.)

The rumor proved correct, but the only people with access to the North Academic Center, where CCNY's largest bulletin board is located on the second floor, are students with valid IDs.

Still, I was able to talk a security guard into letting me in sans ID. And by "talk her into," I mean, I asked her, and she said yes.

If you don't have negotiating skills like mine, you'll find postings on nearby poles and trees. Just expect these to be weathered and picked through, to say the least.

Once inside, I found a sea of postings for shares. I also found an ad for a one-bedroom for $1,100 - $100 more than I wanted, but close enough to give it a look-see.

Located at St. Nicholas Avenue and 151st Street, the apartment turned out to be not really a one-bedroom with a living room, as it was advertised, but more of a small two-bedroom without a living area.

The broker wanted $1,300 a month ($200 more than the posting), first and last month's rent, and a broker's fee equal to one month's rent. So I said goodbye.

While down by City College, I had picked up a copy of The Amsterdam News, a community newspaper (the Harlem Community News, The New York Carib News and The New York Beacon are others). The listings were spare, but I found some that seemed to jibe with my ideal living situation.

I left seven different phone messages and waited to hear back.

Day 2:

Having heard back from not one of the people I'd called the day before, I searched craigslist.org. This yielded a ton of results; about 90 percent of them were brokers concealing their identities. They fessed up to tell me I needed to pay $150 just to see a place. No thanks.

I did find one ad, however, posted by a woman who was moving to the West Coast and needed a replacement tenant.

The apartment, on East 117th Street, was a one-bedroom, as advertised, except that it was so small that the $1,000 rent seemed excessive. The bathroom, for example, barely had space for one person to stand.

I then tried bulletin boards in churches and community centers. I started at Church of the Living Hope on 104th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenue. There was no board there, but they sent me across the street to Hope Community. They sent me back across the street to a nail salon, which had the scoop on apartments above their establishment.

I called the number I was given and have yet to hear back, but the lesson is, talking to people can lead you places.

While on my wild goose chase, someone I'd found through The Amsterdam News e-mailed me back. Turns out there was an open house for a two-bedroom on 133rd Street near Seventh Avenue. The apartment was listed at $1,095 a month.

Expecting a dump, I took the C train to 135th. The super let me into one of the most spacious $1,095-a-month, two-bedroom apartments I'd ever seen.

The whole space had been newly renovated, was two blocks from St. Nicholas Park and had no broker fee. Hallelujah, they do exist.

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