Al Sharpton’s Civil Rights Museum Set to Tower Over Historic Harlem Neighborhood

The Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan has been referred to by West African leader Thomas Sankara as “our White House” and holds a strong history of intellectual and cultural revival among African American people. In January 2021, a developer filed permits to demolish a portion of the Harlem block located between West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue.

New plans submitted to the city this month have revealed that Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) has expectations of building their new headquarters in Harlem. The plans would include two 363-foot-tall towers, as well as a Museum of Civil Rights (MCR).

The proposed project has been dubbed One45, and will consist of two towers which would contain as many as 939 new apartment buildings, 282 of which would be considered affordable housing. It would also include a banquet hall, retail and office space, and a new headquarters for NAN.

NAN is a political, social, and activist-oriented civil rights organization established in 1991 by Sharpton at 106 West 145th Street in Harlem. Back in 2011, the organization began raising money for a new headquarters, an activism library, and a resource center within Harlem. 

The permits filed in January to the New York City Department of Buildings by Steven Neuman, owner of the real estate firm Coltown Properties, calls for the demolition of the current NAN headquarters, as well as a row of small businesses, some of which have functioned in the Harlem neighborhood for decades.

Screenshot/ Google Maps
Google Maps image offers view of businesses on 145th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard, which are expected to be displaced.

Back in 2015, Coltown Properties received backlash for trying to push out a row of Latino businesses located in Washington Heights, most of which have since closed.

The MCR is proposed to be the educational centerfold of the developer’s project, with a laboratory for media production, a rooftop teaching garden, and a programming space with a skyscraper’s view of the city. This, however, all depends on whether or not a rezoning permit is approved.

NYC Planning/SHoP Architects
Blueprint released by the NYC Planning office offers insight into the Rev. Al Sharpton’s proposed National Action Network headquarters in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City’s Upper Manhattan.

If the rezoning is not approved, the existing buildings would still be demolished. In that case, the museum and the new NAN headquarters would be replaced with five smaller buildings for offices and retail, as well as 49 new apartments and a medical center.

An environmental assessment study, which is required by the city to determine how new projects affect the neighborhoods they are involved with, found that the One45 project could negatively affect nearby residents and businesses. 

While it is alleged that no residents will be directly forced out, indirect displacement, also known as gentrification, is a possibility. While a full environmental impact study is still in the works, some existing businesses, such as the Timbuktu Islamic Center, will find themselves forced out regardless of whether the zoning changes get approved. 

A similar project has been proposed by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). In 2019, under a bill signed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, UDC received a large plot of land in Harlem. This development would include a new headquarters for the National Urban League Empowerment Center on the historic 125th street in Harlem, as well as a Trader Joe’s, a conference center, and yet another Urban Civil Rights Experience Museum. It is currently unsure how this museum will differ from the one proposed by Sharpton’s group. 

The developers of One45 hope to start construction by 2022 and wrap up in 2026. The general public will be allowed to weigh in on the proposed development at a virtual scoping meeting scheduled for Monday, May 10.

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