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Harlem at a Crossroads

Harlem at a Crossroads
Harlem was once the center of black culture in the United States, but by the 1960s it had turned into a symbol of urban decay, with a soaring crime rate and rows of abandoned brownstones that only hinted at its rich history.

Now some of those same buildings are selling for as much as $2 million. And some are predicting that they'll soon pass the $3 million mark. But what does the resurgence of Harlem real estate mean for the future of the community?

The most recent neighborhood milestone was on February 17th, 2005 when construction started on a new fifty-story Marriott Hotel complex on 125th street and Park Avenue. The project is called Harlem Park and it was designed by celebrated Mexican architect Enrique Norten.

Norten envisions the building as a "gateway" to the new Harlem, an iconic building that will mirror the "energy and a life that is very unique to Harlem," much like the legendary Hotel Theresa once did. The Theresa, which closed in 1966, was the last major hotel in Harlem. Historian Sondra Kathryn Wilson, author of MEET ME AT THE THERESA has written about the hotel's heyday in the 1940s and 50s, when it "reflected Harlem better than any other institution."

Harlem at a Crossroads
But City Councilmember Bill Perkins thinks the Marriott complex is inappropriate for Harlem. As he told NY VOICES' Rafael Pi Roman, "here you have a 50-plus story hotel that originally started out as a hotel plan that has evolved into what is really a luxury housing project. In a community in which there is a severe scarcity of affordable housing, $600 a square foot doesn't quite respond to that need."

Perkins also expresses concern that "indigenous" residents are being forced out as property values climb. Harlem broker Willie Suggs has watched sale prices skyrocket. "In 2002, when the first house sold for $2 million, oh that was definitely a crossroads," says Suggs. "Today we are poised at making the first sale over $3 million. We had an owner who turned down $3 million-plus twice for his house. Well it is going to go in 2005."

Longtime resident and property-owner Joyce Braithwaite also welcomes the turn around and the new diversity that rising property values are bringing to the neighborhood. "I think Harlem needs a little bit of everything. Harlem is growing now and we need everything we can as input into the neighborhood."

Congressman Charles Rangel agrees. As he told Rafael Pi Roman, "for those that are looking for the luxury apartments, hey we need them to subsidize the low and the middle income apartments. And I just hope that our kids and our grandkids don't have to live in a racist, segregated community which I did."

Rangel, who once worked at a desk clerk at the old Theresa Hotel, also welcomes the jobs and business that the new Marriott will bring to the neighborhood. "I don't really think that you can have anything progressive that is not going to cause some problem for some people."

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Reflecting the Neighborhood:
Will the new Marriott hotel complex represent Harlem in the same way that the legendary Hotel Theresa did in the 1940s and 50s?
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View this storyInterview with Congressman Charles Rangel:
Rafael Pi Roman sits down with the long-time Harlem politician to discuss the community's past and future.
ModemCable/DSL
Real Estate Revival:
Property and business owners discuss the neighborhood's resurgence.
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ModemCable/DSL
View this storyInterview with Rep. Bill Perkins:
Harlem's city council representative expresses his concerns about the changing neighborhood.
ModemCable/DSL
Interview with Sheena Wright:
The head of the Abyssinian Development Corporation describes how the organization pursues its mission of empowerment through commercial property development.
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