Q&A: Will current plans for Harlem ignite a new renaissance uptown?

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CUF: Is Columbia’s planned expansion a good thing for Harlem?
KK: Under the right set of circumstances, expansion could be of great benefit to upper Manhattan. Manhattanville, at least west of Broadway, is analogous to midtown west. It is underdeveloped, [and] it is mostly small manufacturing businesses. I think there may be 1,000, maybe 1,500 jobs there. To the holder of the job, that’s a vital job. But I think there’s a greater economic development potential there, and the burden of Columbia is to demonstrate that this expansion will not come at the expense of the surrounding community.

CUF: What needs to happen?
KK: Columbia has to be sensitive to, and facilitative of, relocation efforts. It’s got to work with the businesses that are there. But Columbia has at least three things to offer its neighbors: procurement opportunities, its spending power, and jobs. It’s the single largest employer in Upper Manhattan. I want to work with Columbia around workforce development. Columbia is made up of more than professors; there are technical jobs, there are facilities-management jobs, and there are administrative jobs that people from the surrounding community should have access to. We need to find a way to break down the barriers. In fairness to Columbia, they’ve been open to this. I think they recognize the need to bring assurance to surrounding communities that their expansion does not mean the marginalization of the surrounding communities.

CUF: What about fears that development in Harlem won’t result in jobs for people in the community?
KK: One of our primary planks in our investment strategy is workforce development. We’re going to make sure [that] where we invest our capital–be it in an auto mall, a retail facility or a hotel–there will be corresponding job training, so that people will be in a position to obtain those jobs. Moreover, anyone that obtains funds from the empowerment zone must have a job quota. So you cannot get our funds unless you make a commitment to hire Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone residents.

CUF: Are there still untapped opportunities in Harlem?
KK: There certainly are. The anchor projects have been very successful, and we want to do more of them because they create jobs and [are] catalysts for development around them. But we also are going to focus a lot of energy on small business development. Small businesses make up the backbone of the economy up here. So we are going to provide technical assistance to these businesses, and we’re going to do a kind of equitable lending. We’re going to take each business and partner with it and structure a lending scenario that recognizes their strengths and shores up their weaknesses.

CUF: Is this a new focus on small businesses?
KK: One of the constant complaints of the local community is that the zone was only concerned about big projects. That’s not true in terms of the expenditures we’ve made. But perception is reality to many people. They see the Harlem USA’s, these big projects. They don’t hear about the smaller projects, which are the typical projects that we do. [With] small-business lending, it takes two dollars to lend a dollar. It’s so labor intensive; that’s why banks don’t do it. But we’ve got to do it. We’re a lender of last resort, but we have to also enable these businesses to go to conventional lending sources after they leave us.

CUF: What would you suggest to city and state officials?
KK: We’ve got to stop defining economic development as only meaning midtown Manhattan, lower Manhattan and now downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City. I think there’s a recognition of that, but I would certainly want upper Manhattan–as a cultural economy and a place where you have two major universities [Columbia University and City College]–to be seen as part of the economic equation.
For the complete interview, visit the Center for an Urban Future’s website, .