Realty Check’s favorite subway ride these days is the A line between Fulton Center and 125th Street/St. Nicholas Avenue. The speedy express skips 12 stops and covers about as many miles in 23 minutes — faster than you might fly between Manhattan’s most resurgent neighborhoods.
The Wall Street area and Harlem wouldn’t seem to have much in common. And they don’t — except that each reflects, in a different way, the city’s extraordinary, possibly unique, regenerative powers.
My heart lifts every time I visit either district. Our readers are familiar with the many facets of downtown’s stirring revivals and reinvention since 9/11. The once-buttoned-down “Financial District” is home to more than 60,000 people. Sidewalks are busy day and night. Great companies are moving there from Midtown. (McKinsey, headed for Three World Trade Center, is the latest.)
The area that once had too few good stores might soon have too many. Fancy movie theaters have opened, and more are coming. So are a new South Street Seaport and a score of new restaurants.
It might seem a far remove from mostly low-rise Harlem’s latest renaissance, which has kicked into high gear after years of promises that fell short.
The historical capital of African-American culture benefited from the same conditions that continue to lift nearly all city boats — an influx of global capital, demand for modern new homes and the amenities residents need, and unprecedented low crime levels.
Harlem had no local 9/11 to overcome, although of course the terrorist attack took lives from every corner of the city. Harlem did, however, need to rebound from previous decades of neglect, disinvestment and bank red-lining that followed an even earlier period of high crime and middle-class flight.
Today’s Harlem — east, central and west — bubbles with energy and optimism. Lenox Avenue, Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and 125th Street river-to-river, especially, buzz with redevelopment.
Harlem’s magnificent brownstone cross-blocks between Fifth Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue have been rediscovered by a new generation of owners and renters.
The winds of change are especially active on 125th Street, where new apartments, Whole Foods, clothing stores, a Marriott Renaissance Hotel atop the historic Victoria cinema site, and a David Adjaye-designed addition to the Studio Museum in Harlem are making the fabled boulevard new.
Much more is coming. A development-site offering at 54-62 W. 125th St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues, on the market via Ariel Property Advisors for $27.5 million, will likely replace a string of long-vacant storefronts with a mixed-use project of up to 100,000 square feet.
The transformation hasn’t come without cost. Some longtime residents and small businesses have been priced out — as happened in many gentrified parts of town, not only in Manhattan.
But a stroll through Harlem — parts of which are more beautiful than any other residential part of town — is as stirring, in its way, as a stroll through reborn downtown.
As Duke Ellington’s classic song put it, “Take the A Train” — but today it means in either direction.