National Urban League breaks ground on a new Beyer Blinder Belle-designed home in Harlem

Slow Down, Build Up

National Urban League breaks ground on a new Beyer Blinder Belle-designed home in Harlem

Beyer Blinder Belle’s new addition to 125th Street will bring affordable units, a Target, Trader Joe’s, and offices to a major thoroughfare in Central Harlem. (Courtesy MAQE/Beyer Blinder Belle)

The National Urban League broke ground early last week on its new headquarters, a mixed-use development in Central Harlem designed by Beyer Blinder Belle.

The civil rights organization will be the lead tenant of the Urban League Empowerment Center, a $242 million, 17-story development at 121 West 125th Street that replaces a four-story parking garage.

In addition to the Urban League’s 42,000-square-foot national headquarters, anchors will include the 21,500-square-foot Urban Civil Rights Museum Experience, New York City’s first civil rights museum, and the 19,500-square-foot National Urban League Institute for Race, Equity and Justice.

Aside from the professional programming, 171 units of affordable housing are slated as is support for young adults leaving foster care; 73,000 square feet of below-market-rate office space for community groups such as Jazzmobile, the United Negro College Fund New York (UNCF), and One Hundred Black Men of New York, and 105,000 square feet of retail, including a Trader Joe’s and Target.

According to Beyer Blinder Belle, the building’s curtain wall and massing were designed to express the variety of uses on 125th Street, with the most transparency for retail spaces and the least transparency for residences. The National Urban League offices are marked by a balcony overlooking 125th Street. The residences are set back off 125th Street and will have a separate entrance from 126th Street.

The Empowerment Center will fill a key block of 125th Street in Harlem between the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue. Targeted for completion in late 2023, it represents a homecoming of sorts for the National Urban League, which was founded in Harlem in 1910 but is currently based at 80 Pine Street in lower Manhattan and has 90 affiliates around the country that advocate for economic and social justice for African Americans.

The development team is a joint venture of BRP Companies, L+M Development Partners; Taconic Investment Partners; The Prusik Group, and Dabar Development Partners. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group is providing the bulk of the financing.

The land was awarded to the developers after they responded to a request for proposals issued by Empire State Development and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

“For more than a century, the National Urban League has been vital in supporting the advancement of Black Americans and other historically underrepresented groups in New York State and across America,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said at the groundbreaking on March 17.

“This project exemplifies the League’s mission that began more than a century ago in the same Harlem neighborhood,” he said. “As the challenges and struggles surrounding the fight for equal rights continue to today, this new headquarters is even more vital and I’m very proud that it’s being built in New York.”

“New York City is where we were born, and I am proud that New York City is where we will stay,” said National Urban League president and CEO (and former New Orleans mayor) Marc Morial. “I am even more excited about the neighborhood economic development our new home represents…The Empowerment Center will be a hub and a catalyst for enterprise, creativity, activism and advocacy.”