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Mentioned in this Article:
Stephen G. Kliegerman

Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing

Wall Street Journal

Church Guides Harlem Condo

But rather than railing about the perils of Harlem gentrification, the church is the guiding force behind the development, and its development arm, the Abyssinian Development Corp., is the proud sponsor, showing off a model apartment at an opening party on West 138th Street on Thursday night, beginning at 6.

The condominium development—32 condos in two buildings, including 10 subsidized units—is the first of a new wave of developments by the church that will bring about 200 condominiums to its home neighborhood over the years to come.

The future plans include a residential tower in a mixed-use development to rise above the shell of the Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, a historic cultural center around the corner from the church on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

A few doors down from the imposing stone facade of the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street, one the most important activist churches in Harlem, a new condominium development is about to go on the market including market-rate penthouses, with open stainless-steel kitchens, granite counters, and terraces, priced up to $970,000.

Sheena Wright, the president of Abyssinian Development, said the new condominium development was the culmination of a campaign by the church going back nearly a quarter of a century to try to save the surrounding neighborhood, hard hit by urban blight, abandonment and decay.

The development corporation acquired most of the buildings on the block as well as buildings on surrounding blocks. It renovated 200 rental apartments, built an early-childhood center and a residence for homeless families, and created new open spaces. It is also building a new public elementary school.

Now to strengthen the neighborhood, the development corporation has shifted its focus to home ownership, and it hopes to attract a mix of neighborhood residents and newcomers in the new condominium buildings. Pumpkin colored flags hanging from lampposts proclaim "The Abyssinian Neighborhood."

Ms. Wright of Abyssinian Development said the condo development would strengthen the neighborhood. "We married the real-estate investment, with the investment in human and social capital," she said.

The results are two tan brick and cast-stone buildings: a six-story building at 108 W. 138th St. and a seven-story building around the corner on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

The apartments aren't the most extravagant new buildings in Harlem and lack the grand amenities of other developments, to keep them affordable. But even the market-rate units are more affordable than asking prices in some other new developments in the neighborhood.

A 1,040-square-foot two-bedroom unit on the third floor has an asking price of $522,000, or $502 a square foot. Smaller one bedrooms are priced at about $560 a square foot. (The lowest affordable units, subject to income limits, start at $122,000.)

Stephen G. Kliegerman, who oversees new development at Halstead Property, said asking prices in major new developments in Harlem are averaging from $650 to $750 a square foot.

At 88 Morningside a new building facing Morningside Park at West 122nd Street, a 10th floor two-bed apartment a bit smaller than the two-bedroom on West 138th Street has an asking price of $675,000, or $663 a square foot. An art installation created by Harlem's Fashion Row, which promotes uptown designers, is scheduled to open Thursday evening at 88 Morningside.

Mr. Kliegerman said that while prices remain lower than they were at the peak of the market, activity has picked up at new developments in Harlem.

He said many of the deep rent concessions provided by landlords during the economic downturn have disappeared, leading some renters to think about buying, especially while interest rates remain low.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church was founded in 1809 by traders who came from Ethiopia, and the church moved to its current site on West 138th Street in 1923 during the Harlem renaissance. The church developed its activist reputation during the 1930s when it was headed by Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the former congressman.

Write to Josh Barbanel at josh.barbanel@wsj.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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