Civil rights museum heading to Peebles’ West Side tower — if it’s ever built

Museum linked to Al Sharpton had been slated for Bruce Teitelbaum’s controversial Harlem project

New York /
Mar.March 24, 2022 07:00 AM

From left: Don Peebles and Al Sharpton in front of the planned Affirmation Tower (Peebles Corporation, Getty Images, iStock/Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

The city’s first civil rights museum is moving from one uncertain project to another.

The Museum of Civil Rights has agreed to take at least 50,000 square feet at “Affirmation Tower,” a 2 million-square-foot skyscraper envisioned by developer Don Peebles for 418 11th Avenue.

The museum, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Judge Jonathan Lippman, was originally supposed to occupy 48,000 square feet at One45, a building planned for West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. That mostly residential project has faced pushback from Harlem Council member Kristin Richardson Jordan, Community Board 10 and Borough President Mark Levine.

Jordan’s support is key for the project, which needs City Council approval. Its affiliation with Sharpton and the museum gave One45’s developers, who include Bruce Teitelbaum, an edge in the city’s often politicized approval process. Now that advantage goes to Peebles.

But “Affirmation Tower” is also up in the air. State agency Empire State Development revoked a request for proposals for the site where developer Don Peebles is vying to build it. The agency has neither reissued the RFP nor announced a timeline for doing so.

Upon revoking the RFP, state officials hinted that they were considering affordable housing for the site, an idea Peebles called “absurd.” One45, if its Harlem site were rezoned, would include affordable apartments.

Peebles called the museum’s potential move a “breakthrough” for the Far West Side project and said he is hopeful that it will “encourage people to move a little faster,” referring to Hochul administration officials planning the future of the 11th Avenue parcel, called site K.

Peebles is among the nation’s best known Black developers and the project would be funded mostly by Black-owned companies, designed by Black architect Sir David Adjaye, built by minority- and women-owned businesses and include NAACP offices — factors that figure to help it beat out other proposals for the site.

Affirmation Tower’s would-be developers have positioned it as the city’s first Black-built skyscraper.

“This is a project that is bigger than one developer, bigger than one neighborhood,” Peebles said. “If we don’t take this opportunity to do it, when will it get done?”

He said that Sharpton had previously indicated that if One45 is not approved, he would consider moving the museum to Affirmation Tower. Given the community opposition to the Harlem project, Sharpton agreed to the change last week, Peebles said.

One45’s Teitelbaum, who was once a senior aide in the Giuliani administration, did not respond to requests seeking comment. Commercial Observer first reported the deal between Peebles and Sharpton.

Peebles maintains that the two hotels he plans for the site, which is near the Javits Convention Center, would serve the area better than affordable housing. But the housing would be more beneficial politically to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is seeking election this year to a four-year term.

Community Board 4, an advisory body of local volunteers, has requested affordable housing for site K. Hochul has already adjusted plans for development around Penn Station to require more affordable housing.





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