One of the largest real estate developers in the United States, Kimco Realty, sent termination and demolition notices to the business owners who worked in Harlem’s longest building. All of the commercial tenant’s leases either had expired or had demolition clauses allowing the developer to evict the commercial tenants.
The building in question was one block west of the cultural epicenter of Harlem on world famous 125th Street, home of numerous institutions key to African American culture, notably the Apollo Theatre. Each of the tenants was either a traditional Harlem business or one that had given up opportunities to be in the more famed sections of Manhattan so as to strengthen the sense of community in Harlem, particularly amongst African-Americans.
Realizing that the small business owners, could not rely on the law, Adam Leitman Bailey gave birth to the Save Harlem Association.
“The Save Harlem Association, comprised of neighborhood business owners, say the project threatens the black heritage of 125th Street.” This building is Harlem’s last stand and its people are rallying around this case to save the civil and social center of the black world — Harlem USA,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, the attorney representing Save Harlem.
“The American Planning Association, last year, named 125th Street one of the country’s 10 best streets. The building also marks the place where Malcolm X made historic speeches and author W.E.B. DuBois once worked. But a source told Real Estate Weekly the gentrification argument is merely a “facade” and claims this particular matter has more to do with an extortion strategy than anything else. According to Fred Winters, a Harlem resident and spokesperson for the project, Bailey is simply ‘playing hardball.’”
Adam Leitman Bailey joined forces with local politicians and secured the support of the local media and the districts governmental representatives including Congressman Charlie Rangel and Senator Keith Wright as well as the local community board. The community wore blue and orange Save Harlem t-shirts designed by the firm and a large rally took place with these representatives, the community, and the news media. Keith Wright commended Bailey for his speech and noted that last time a white man spoke like that for his people was in Gettysburg and by a man named Abraham Lincoln.
Kimco hired one of the largest law firms in the country to battle Adam Leitman Bailey and the Save Harlem Association.
Litigation ensued. In the courtroom, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. in a two-hour oral argument convinced the State Supreme Court judge to sign an injunction blocking the building’s demolition. The lease was drafted in a way that potentially made its demolition provision unenforceable because it stated that the tenants were not permitted to seek court intervention and some of the tenants had recently finished major improvements relying on the former owner’s promise not to demolish the building. Realizing that this argument could win or lose, Bailey also focused on the history that would be ended.
Besides the legal arguments, in its court filings, the firm described the history of Harlem and the importance of keeping the most important and famous black communities intact and vibrant. At oral argument, Bailey passionately argued that this judge “should not be the one, with the flick of her pen to strike a fatal stake in the heart of Harlem.
The judge agreed with both the legal and historical arguments and signed an injunction stopping the developer from not only evicting the tenants but tearing down the building.
This injunction continued for a year and stayed in effect until a financial settlement was reached a year later. The settlement allowed for each of the 5 commercial tenants to receive a large sum of money and continue their lease for a specific period of time. One of the commercial tenants is still in possession of its restaurant today. As of July 2009, the building had not been demolished.