Harlem’s National Black Theatre partners with L+M to redevelop 125th St. property

Once facing foreclosure, arts venue plans 220-unit mixed-use building

Ron Moelis and the National Black Theater site in Harlem
Ron Moelis and the National Black Theater site in Harlem

A Harlem cultural institution that was on the brink of collapse a few year ago is partnering with one of the city’s best-connected developers to make over its property at the corner of 125th Street and Fifth Avenue.

The National Black Theatre, which rescued itself from a potential foreclosure five years ago, is teaming up with L+M Development Partners to redevelop its home a block from Marcus Garvey Park into a mixed-use building with 240 residential units and space for a new, 30,000-square-foot theater.

The theater and Ron Moelis’ L+M are in the midst of rezoning the property for more density, which would more than triple the buildable square footage on the site from roughly 68,000 square feet to over 240,000 square feet, planning documents show.

They also plan to apply for a bonus that provides four additional square feet of buildable floor space for every square foot of theater or arts space the developer builds. National Black Theatre’s board chair Michael Lythcott said the project is the first to apply for the bonus, which his late mother and NBT founder, Barbara Ann Teer, helped to create as a component of the 2008 city-led rezoning of 125th Street.

“A decade after my mom helped craft the visual or performing arts bonus, it’s exciting to be part of the first proposal to utilize it,” Lythcott said.

The current rezoning application is awaiting a vote by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office after the local community board approved it last month. The proposed 20-story building on the site at 2031-2033 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 125th Street would span 241,677 square feet and include roughly 25,000 square feet of retail. Under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, the partners would set aside 20, 25 or 30 percent of the units as affordable housing, though they haven’t yet decided on which option to take.

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The property fronting the full block of Fifth Avenue between 125th and 126th streets sits about two blocks away from a pair of sites the Durst Organization Owns On Park Avenue.

Lythcott teamed up with L+M earlier this year after a tumultuous period in the theater’s nearly 50-year history.

Sovereign Bank in 2010 filed to foreclose on the arts venue after it defaulted on a $6.5 million mortgage the bank had provided in late 2006, court records show. Lythcott rescued the theater by forming a 50/50 partnership with Baltoro Capital Management, an opportunistic investment subsidiary of the John Hancock Insurance Company, which bought the property in 2012 for $10.36 million.

The partners sold the property earlier this year in February to a 50/50 partnership of Lythcott and L+M for $15.45 million. L+M’s Moelis is one of the most active partners with the city on affordable-housing projects, thanks in part to his close ties with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

Elsewhere uptown, L+M and Tahl Propp Equities recently landed $126.5 million in financing to develop a 400-unit, 15-story rental building in East Harlem.