Harlem’s Victoria Theater A Cultural Hub For Harlem

July 19, 2012

A plan to transform Harlem’s legendary Victoria Theater into a splashy hub for the arts and tourism — and an affordable home for hundreds of needy families — won state backing on Wednesday.

With its gleaming hotel, cultural center and apartment tower, the blockbuster $143 million complex is expected to further bolster the white-hot 125th Street corridor.

In a unanimous vote, Gov. Cuomo’s Empire State Development Corp. approved the 360,000-square-foot mega-project, which will convert the once-proud vaudeville house into a magnet for artists, residents, tourists — and jobs.

“It’s a public-private vision to provide housing and jobs for Harlem, build a cultural presence, attract tourism and meet real needs for hotel and ballroom space,” said Steven Williams, a principal of Danforth Development Partners, the firm that has been working for the last five years to secure the project’s financing.

The development deal will turn the site into a shimmering, 26-story, two-building campus graced with two theaters, 229 rental apartments and 210 hotel rooms, ESDC board documents show.

A 25,000-square-foot non-profit arts complex that will house the Classical Theater of Harlem, JazzMobile, the Apollo Theater Foundation and the Harlem Arts Alliance will be the project’s crown jewel.

And since Harlem has historically suffered from a lack of convention-and-meeting space, the new hotel will boast a world-class, 5,000-square-foot ballroom, developers say.

The Victoria’s cavernous auditorium will be demolished, but its ornate lobby, signature fountain, original marquee, grand stairway and gilded chandeliers will be preserved.

The Victoria’s cavernous auditorium will be demolished, but its ornate lobby, signature fountain, original marquee, grand stairway and gilded chandeliers will be preserved.

“I’m floating on air!” said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corp., an ESDC subsidiary. “It is now — officially — a real project embraced by the state of New York.”

Designed for the Loew’s Corp. in 1917 by Thomas Lamb, one of America’s great theater architects, the Victoria was a 2,394-seat vaudeville palace a few doors east of the Apollo Theater on what was once known as Harlem’s “Opera Row.”

But it fell on hard times amid rioting and urban blight in the 1960s, weathered vandalism and dwindling audiences and eventually became a four-screen multiplex until its doors were closed in 1989.

State officials started seeking a developer in 2005 and inked a tentative deal with Danforth Development Partners two years later — only to watch financing evaporate as the real estate market imploded in 2008.

After a three-year delay, Danforth was back at the table in March of 2011, with a new equity partner, Exact Capital. The deal to build two towers soaring above the theater — one for the hotel, the other for housing — was back on track.

After a final public review process, groundbreaking is expected in Jan., 2013, and state officials say the complex will open by early 2015.

“This will be one of the largest construction projects underway anywhere in New York City — and the good news is it’s going up in Harlem,” said Wayne Benjamin, director of residential development for HCDC.


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