Harlem Is Booming With Residential and Commercial Activity The Historic Section of Northern Manhattan Has Been Drawing Attention

The Apollo Theater at 125th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in the night (iStock)

Sometimes it can be all-too-tempting to throw around the 'r'-word, whether for the sake of cynical sensationalism or genuine enthusiasm. (The word being, or course, 'renaissance.') But it's often better to tread more lightly; to just acknowledge an uptick in activity in a certain area, and see what blossoms. And something certainly appears to be blossoming up in Harlem, where retail, residential and commercial activity all seem to be trending positively at the moment - condominiums and cooperatives included.

To cite but two examples that have contributed to this growing enthusiasm, The Real Deal reported on April 7 that real estate company Tahl-Propp Equities filed a plan in March that would convert 71 rentals to 150 condos at 1325 Fifth Avenue.

A second project, known as the “Cereza,” would add another 52 units to what is now a vacant lot at 1790 Third Avenue, bringing a combined 202 units to the area -- 130 more than was proposed to the attorney general's office during the last quarter of 2016.

In order to separate the hype from the reality, The Cooperator reached out to some real estate professionals who do business up the Harlem way, in order to ascertain what can be expected in the coming year.

Art History

Most New Yorkers realize that you can't paint a large area of the city with a broad brush. Harlem is fairly sizable and contains multitudes; various cultures and demographics affect the growth of different sections in different ways.

“Like all of New York City, Harlem has its distinct neighborhoods,” says Tamara Marotta, a licensed associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “They run in about ten-block radii. At the moment, I'm very into Hamilton Heights, and have listings throughout central Harlem as well. But, right off the bat, I'm seeing buyers who have never even been uptown eyeing Hamilton Heights as an artsy, serious destination.”

To illustrate her point, Marotta cites an article by John Freeman Gill from Avenue that ran in December 2016, focusing on 721 St. Nicholas Avenue. A building with rich history, 721 St. Nicholas had once housed the Barnard School for Boys and later the Silver Dollar Bar and Grill, one of the neighborhood's first speakeasies. However, for the past 20 years, the property has been little more than a “decrepit shell.” But now the building is undergoing a gut renovation, and will soon reemerge as a mixed-use condominium, “bringing a measure of elegance back to the Hamilton Heights Historic District.”

Big Business

Of course, with Manhattan and Brooklyn growing increasingly more expensive for both residential and commercial buyers, other neighborhoods are looking more desirable simply based on the fact that it's affordable to live and work therein.

“I have noticed a dramatic pick-up in foreign buyer activity in Harlem, specifically as pertains to Asian buyers, that I had not before seen in the neighborhood,” says Scott Harris of Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales, LLC. “There is still a lack of inventory, and Upper Manhattan remains one of the very strongest neighborhoods in terms of price appreciation and market velocity.”

“People are coming from everywhere,” adds Abdullah Fersen, CEO of Newgent Property Management in Yonkers. “Those who can't afford Brooklyn, or, really, anything below 90th Street, are choosing Harlem. And a lot of restaurants are opening; there is a ton of art, exciting activities, many popular bars. It's the new affordable area close to Central Park.”

Todd Stevens, a licensed broker also with Douglas Elliman, notes that the introduction of numerous 'big box' retailers has had a notable effect on the landscape of 125th Street. However, he notes that, “while Harlem – and New York City in general – is experiencing thriving growth, for a number of reasons we have as much as 50 percent less new construction of condominiums as we had in 2007/2008 within a similar span of time.”

Whether the aforementioned 202 new residential condo units are a bellwether of a multifamily boom to come remains to be seen, the fact that Harlem is drawing an increasing amount of attention of late cannot be disputed. Interested parties should pop on Harlem World by the hip-hop singer Ma$e and head northbound posthaste while the getting is good.

Michael Odenthal is a staff writer at The Cooperator.

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