125th Street's Development Boom

New Manhattan developments on 125th StreetOne street in Manhattan is about to gain 350,000 square feet of new development, and it’s not what you may think. 125th Street, often considered Upper Manhattan’s Main Street of sorts, will grow yet again thanks to three initiatives spearheaded by the New York City Department of City Planning and Economic Development Corporation. The former’s 2008 rezoning and the latter’s two pet projects, CREATE @ Harlem Green and the Corn Exchange Building restoration, will serve as anchors to make the 125th Street corridor one of Manhattan’s most important. In doing so, it will serve as a hub for new residential and commercial development as well as a catalyst for the continued growth of Upper Manhattan.

The most important component of this resurgence is the recent rezoning of the 125th Street corridor from Broadway to Second Avenue. In its eventual amendment to the area’s zoning, the Department of City Planning localized the corridor into regions that fit better into their surrounding environment, with a number of different types of commercial and mixed-use zones (with some manufacturing and residential thrown in) now occupying the corridor, meaning that growth is better targeted within specific areas. There is also an established building height gradient that increases as one moves westward; between Lenox Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, new developments will now be allowed to reach up to 290 feet, higher than anywhere else in Upper Manhattan.

To that end, CREATE @ Harlem Green and the Corn Exchange Building, the two centerpieces of the 125th Street redevelopment, serve radically different, yet interrelated, purposes. At Amsterdam Avenue, CREATE @ Harlem Green is a prime example of adaptive reuse, converting what used to be a factory into a mixed-use complex complete with a range of manufacturing, office, and commercial space, topped off with its signature element: a modern green space on its rooftop. As a result, CREATE @ Harlem Green will act as a hub for the western end of the corridor, aided by Columbia University’s burgeoning expansion nearby.

On the other end of the street is the Corn Exchange Building, a key preservation project not only in the area but also New York City. Ideally situated at 125th Street’s intersection with Park Avenue, the Corn Exchange Building will hold office and retail space, both of which are scarce in this low-vacancy part of East Harlem. The Corn Exchange Building’s historic exterior will also attract visitors from outside of the neighborhood, bringing with them economic activity. Next to one of only two Metro-North stations in Manhattan, the Corn Exchange Building and its surroundings even have the potential to bring in commuters.

Overall, the Department of City Planning and the Economic Development Corporation’s integrated use of zoning and targeted development around specific buildings will result in the development of a vital commercial, office, and residential corridor at 125th Street. New zoning policies allow for a better balance and layout of uses as well as concentrating new construction appropriately, especially in areas with good subway access. It will be interesting to see the progress of development near these nodes on 125th Street in the coming years indeed.

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