The Abyssinian Development Corporation, a nonprofit development company which is associated with the Abyssinian Baptist Church, has successfully blocked plans to landmark the long-vacant Renaissance Ballroom and Renaissance Casino located on Adam Clayton Boulevard and 138th Street. Abyssinian plans to preserve the exterior of the northern part of the complex and construct a 19-story mixed-income condominium tower on the southern half of the complex along.
The tower would be incorporated into a larger performance, ballroom, retails, and community space. It will include 112 condos, 27,000 square feet of cultural and performance space, 10,000 square feet of community space, and 10,000 square feet of commercial space. The new tower will require the gutting of the historic interiors and the razing of an adjacent YMCA.
For nearly a decade locals have argued for landmark protections for the decaying structure which played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance. Owned and operated by African-American entrepreneurs, the complex was Harlem’s first entertainment complex where movies, theater, dancing, and sports could be enjoyed.
However, in an unprecedented move, the Municipal Arts Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Historic Districts Council joined prominent Harlem residents including former Mayor David Dinkins to oppose landmark designation arguing that such a designation would create insurmountable obstacles to bringing ballroom and the cultural space back to life. Abyssinian hopes the development will be completed by 2009. Still, some residents remain concerned with the loss of the historic structures and argue that a whole-scale renovation of the structure would be more beneficial to the community.