Why Harlem is Hot Hot Hot

Posted by jeff

Wed Jul 11th, 2007 08:22 AM

Nope its not just the real feel temps of 105 degrees being felt citywide. Harlem is on fire from a development perspective and I'm going to try to show you why and why I think it will continue in the next couple of pages. Check out where new development has gone up or is going up on this Google map I made (yes this is what I do all day):


For those of you aficionados who say - Dah! We already know...I hope you invested in the late 90s, because here are the stats:


  • Driven by re-development and rent increases, Harlem real estate price appreciation far outpaced that of NY City, with a 300% increase in the 90s, vs. 12% in New York City overall.

  • The median value of all owner occupied housing in Harlem rose 295% from 1995 to 2000 vs. 12% for New York City as a whole.

  • The average price for a brownstone shell hit $1.1MM in 2005 four years after prices of $400k were considered high. The median sales price of co-ops and condos jumped from $60,000 in 1995 to $309,000 in 2005.*

  • According to a late 2006 report by the Real Estate Board of New York, the range of retail rents on 125th Street from river to river is ranging from $35 to $177, with the average rent at $94 and the medium at $85 a square foot.

  • * Washington Post

    Despite this significant boom in Harlem, I think the best is yet to come. Away from those in the know, there are many who don't realize the huge changes that have happened in Harlem and what is to come, but lets back up for a minute.

    Why did this happen?

  • The Harlem population grew 8.4% during the decade of the 1990s, vs. 3.3% for Manhattan overall. Households grew even faster at 10.2%. The Hispanic population was a driver as it has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, Harlem has become more family centric. The fastest growing population segments were 2 & 3 person households which grew 17% and 16% respectively in the 1990s. Married couples constituted just 19% of households as of the 2000 census but are growing fast. Along with the growth of families there has been an increased trend to home ownership. Home ownership in Harlem has historically trailed even the low rates of NY City as a whole, but home ownership doubled from 5% in 1990 to 12% by 2002.

  • Numbers Shmumbers you say...Why did it really happen?
    Non-profits and social services organizations role in the Harlem Renaissance is undeniable - although their major contribution to it was in part through a surreptitious avenue - they moved uptown. Former President Bill Clinton's 2001 move to offices at 55 West 125th Street was the spark that started the fire. Non-profits and social services organizations quickly clustered around Clinton's offices absorbing much of the neighborhoods 3.4MM square feet of commercial space and quickly driving a doubling of rents to $35 per square foot range in 2004. The second Harlem Renaissance was also at least in part sparked by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), which began in 1994 and has financed 152 initiatives with $134MM in and leveraged $695MM in total investment. The UMEZ allocated 27% of its funds to tourism and cultural industrial development, 58% to business investment, and 15% to workforce and human capital development.
    Snore! Why are people really moving there?

    Tons of commercial developments over the last decade are making Harlem a better place to live. (The following are merely highlights)

  • April 1999 - The first big box grocery store Pathmark opens at 125th St. & Lexington Avenue.

  • May 1999 - The first Starbucks opens on 125th Street.

  • May 2000 - European American Bank opens the first new bank in central Harlem in 20 years.

  • 2000 - A CVS is opened in a mixed use commercial building Lenox Ave and 116th Street.

  • October 2001 - Harlem USA complex is opened with 275,000 square feet of retail including HMV Music, Modell's, Old Navy and others, and a Cineplex. The project is subsidized by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and sports Robert Deniro as an investor.

  • September 2002 - Harlem Center a JV between Forest City Rattner and Abyssinian Development Corp. - 126,000 square feet at 125 West 125th Street. $95MM development of a 12 story building with retail and office space.

  • 2003 - The $23MM Gotham Plaza a 90,000 square foot Blumenfeld development at East 125th between 3rd and Lexington Avenues.

  • November 2003 - The $30MM Harlem Health Center 110,000 sq ft at125th St. and Morningside Drive.

  • 2004 - The historic Apollo Theatre gets a $6MM exterior refurbishment.

  • 2006 - The Potamkin Harlem Auto Mall opens the first new auto dealership in Harlem in 40 years.

  • So what's to look forward too?

    Columbia University
    - The University has a proposed $7 Billion expansion on 17 acres in West Harlem designed by Renzo Piano and Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

    East River Plaza
    - This game changing project will be a 500,000 square foot retail center development, which is a JV between Blumenfeld Development Corporation and Forest City Rattner. The center, on 6 acres stretching from 116th Street to 119th Street along the FDR Drive will include Home Depot, and Target as anchor tenants when it opens in 2008.

    Harlem Park - Bringing Class A office space to Harlem, Vornado will deliver a 640,000 square foot 21 story mixed use building at 125th & Park by. The building will reside adjacent to the 125th Street stop on the Metro North commuter rail. The project is already 11% leased with a planned completion in 2009.

    Harlem Piers Re-development
    - This is an $18.7MM publicly financed project to build two piers on the Hudson River between St. Clair Place and West 135th Street. The first will be used for excursion boats and water taxis with the second to be reserved for recreation including sunbathing and fishing. The connection to pedestrian and bicycle paths will fill a missing link in the planned coastal greenway on the Hudson River side of the city.

    Harlem Hospital Center
    - The Harlem Hospital is in the second year of its five-year modernization plan. The $249 million five-year modernization plan includes demolishing antiquated buildings, renovating 183,000 square feet, and building a 150,000 square foot Patient Pavilion. Plans include a new Emergency Department, state-of-the-art critical care and diagnostic units, and new, fully equipped operating rooms.

    Museum for African Art
    - The Museum for African Art will have a 90,000 square foot, $80MM new home designed by Yale’s Dr. Robert A.M. Stern. It is being called a cultural gateway to Harlem. It is set to open in 2009 at its new permanent location, 5th Avenue and 110th Street. It is the first new museum to be built on "Museum Mile" since the Guggenheim in 1959.

    Avalon Morningside Park
    - Avalon's 20 Story 296 units rental apartment building at Morningside Drive and Cathedral Parkway is one of the largest new residential developments in Harlem. Importantly, Avalon is a trend setting public REIT, who has blazed trails in the Lower East Side Noho and Long Island City already.

    How has all this impacted the residential real estate market?

  • Since 1990, approximately 4,550 units of free market condominiums have been developed in Harlem.

  • The bulk of these, or about 4,300 have been built since 2000.

  • There were 1,556 units proposed for construction as of 2006.

  • If I have overwhelmed you with data, good. The point is the Harlem Renaissance is for real, its here to stay and things will only get better from here. While in a downturn Harlem like other "growth" areas could get hit hard. But you can bet I'm one investor who will be a buyer on any dip. Go check it out for yourself, but wait for the heat wave to end.

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