UMEZ Announces New President & CEO, Blair Duncan

May 26, 2018

The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone’s (UMEZ) Board of Directors today announced the appointment of Blair M. Duncan as the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer. Duncan will assume his new position at UMEZ on July 1, 2018 – leading its efforts to sustain the economic revitalization of all communities throughout Harlem, and on the greater Harlem community. Duncan currently serves as UMEZ’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer under the leadership of Kenneth J. Knuckles who last month announced that he’d be stepping down to begin his retirement after15 years of leadership.

“Blair has been an integral part of UMEZ over the years, and we are very excited to work with him in this new capacity,” said Joseph J. Johnson III, UMEZ Board Chairman and Senior Vice President, Goldman Sachs & Co. “We are confident that under his leadership, we will continue and expand upon the work that we’re doing as an organization to help revitalize the communities of Upper Manhattan while continuing to grow the relationships with small businesses, and more.”

Blair Duncan began his tenure with UMEZ in 2003 as the organization’s General Counsel bringing with him extensive legal, finance, and non-profit industry experience. In the years since, Duncan has assumed increasing levels of responsibility and led UMEZ’s financing to redevelop the Victoria Theater in Harlem and the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal Redevelopment. He played a key role in providing capital access to small businesses in the neighborhood, and structuring grants to cultural institutions to help attract visitors to the area. Prior to joining UMEZ, he served as Vice President and Senior Counsel in the Corporate Law Department of Merrill Lynch. Duncan has served on the boards of Harlem YMCA, the Helene Fuld College of Nursing, and Lawyers Alliance for New York, and he continues to serve as a member of the Executive Committee of the Wharton Club of New York.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead an organization that has helped to improve the economic wellbeing of our community, promote growth and sustain the cultural identity of Upper Manhattan,” said Duncan “and I am excited to begin working with the Board of Directors to build on the accomplishments of prior CEOs and strengthen our communities. Upper Manhattan has a different landscape than it did when UMEZ was founded, and UMEZ is adapting to continue to serve our communities. Last year, UMEZ became a Community Development Financial Institution. We look to collaborate and partner with mission aligned organizations and to continue to support economic development initiatives that create jobs, develop small businesses and build capacity for our cultural organizations.”

UMEZ helps facilitate economic development all throughout Upper Manhattan in the neighborhoods of Central, West and East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. UMEZ investments have leveraged over $1.1 billion of private capital investments and this commitment has created nearly 10,000 direct jobs thus far. The organization since its inception has provided $87 million in loans for real estate projects, $57 million in tax-exempt bonds for real estate development and $94 million in grants focused on arts, culture and workforce development. In 2017, UMEZ became a recognized Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

For more information about UMEZ, visit

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