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In a February 17 ceremony uptown, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki and others gathered to break ground on what is to become the tallest building in upper Manhattan, a development called Harlem Park. The $236 million glass tower will be anchored by a Marriott hotel—the first hotel to be built in Harlem in decades. It will also include office space and market rate residential units.

It will be a massive development with a corporate tenant that is anti-union. But unlike Wal-Mart, the Marriott got approval for a zoning change from the City Council and is moving forward on friendly terms with its host neighborhood. That’s because the developer, 1800 Park Avenue LLC., has signed a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Community Board 11 that will give Harlem residents first shot at the 948 estimated hotel and 1,482 construction jobs to be created.

Community Board 11, which represents East Harlem, had trouble in the past with businesses that moved into the community and did not hire Harlem residents. So when Harlem Park developer Michael Caridi approached the board about building the high rise, they jumped at the chance to sign an agreement, recalls Javier Llano, district manager for the board. “We’re sick and tired of promises and they don’t deliver,” said Llano. “We felt we should take this opportunity to hold the developer accountable.”

Under the CBA, Marriott commits “to use good faith efforts to achieve minority employment of 50 percent of hourly employees and 35 percent of management.” It also seeks to give 40 percent of hourly worker and 35 percent of manager positions to women. Residents in Community Board 11’s zip code will get first shot at hotel jobs, and the developer will work with building trades unions on hiring “qualified community residents.”

“It’s such an important project for the community, and we’re going to be in Harlem for a long time,” commented Michael Caridi, of 1800 Park Avenue LLC. Caridi approached the board for help in changing the zoning of the site, which previously only permitted low-rise development. After negotiating with the community board, the developer agreed to lower the tower’s height, which is now projected to stand around 458 feet high.

Some Harlem activists and politicians say that’s still too big, and they’re concerned the tower will cast a giant shadow over the neighborhood. “Everybody is in favor of a hotel in Harlem,” said Danny Perez, who is a member of a Department of City Planning committee evaluating zoning along 125th Street. “But the height is too much. The tallest building is the state [office] building, which is about 22 or 23 floors.”

Councilmember Bill Perkins also opposed the development, in part because of the height of the tower and lack of affordable housing. He also noted there are no enforcement mechanisms in the agreement. “It’s a very different thing to do,” said the councilmember of the CBA. “You have to have an operation to enforce it.”

—Bennett Baumer

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