In December 2003, the Department of City Planning (DCP) partnered with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Departments of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to conduct the 125th Street Study. The study was initiated in response to increased residential and commercial construction in the historically significant neighborhood of Harlem, and its intended goal was to create a framework for development along the entire length of 125th Street from the Harlem River to the Hudson River.
According to the DCP’s website: “125th Street, alternatively known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, boasts a unique character and many distinct assets upon which to build. It offers a multitude of cultural, commercial and institutional resources, many of which have historic importance for the Harlem community, and it is well-served by local and regional public transportation.” DCP’s intention in the rezoning was to encourage development of the corridor that respects the character and scale of existing buildings. Central to this goal is the creation of new zones that encourage mixed-use development, which will allow for residential, commercial, and cultural uses.
DCP completed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in September 2007, certified their rezoning proposal as complete on October 1, 2007 and released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed 125th Street Corridor Rezoning and Related Actions on February 28, 2008. Despite vocal opposition from community members who fear that the neighborhood will lose its distinctive character, the City Planning Commission (CPC) approved the rezoning in March 2008, and it was approved by the City Council in April 2008. The plan allows for condominiums, more performing arts space and office towers, but included some compromises such as limited building height, assurances that a large portion of all new housing will be moderately-priced, and financial aid for approximately 70 displaced businesses. The City also promised to make improvements to Marcus Garvey Park and to address health problems among residents. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Council’s approval would “strengthen” the area’s business district and promote arts, entertainment and retail. He also said the rezoning would create more than 7,000 jobs.
At the time of the rezoning, several plans for new development were in the works including two hotels, two shopping malls and 21-story commercial and residential tower at 125th Street and Park Avenue called Harlem Park. The 380-foot tall mixed-use Harlem Park tower was to be the tallest structure in the area and connect East and West Harlem, as well as become the home of Major League Baseball and an affiliated television network. Developer Vornado worked with Community Board 11 to create a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) totaling over $1 million in concessions, and construction on the project was originally slated to begin in 2005. The project was officially called off in December 2008 because Vornado could not secure financing to build the tower and only had tentative leases signed for one-third of the project.
Work on another area project in the area, the new Harlem piers, began in November 2005. The old piers, located at the western end of 125th Street, were demolished in the mid-twentieth century. Although the new $18.7 million piers were scheduled to be complete by 2007, the West Harlem Piers Park between 125th and 132nd streets opened in late 2008.