The Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance will honor former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields with its first annual Award for Leadership and Community Development on Tuesday October 21st at the Harlem Garage (318 West 118th Street) at 6:00 PM.
Ten years ago, 44 blocks of vacant and blighted properties were rezoned to revitalize a neighborhood in South-Central Harlem. Seeing unrealized potential, then-Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields spearheaded an effort to foster new opportunities for residential development and affordable housing, expand opportunities for new ground floor retail, while promoting building forms that would not overwhelm the existing neighborhood.
“I remember when Frederick Douglass Boulevard was a marginalized and problematic commercial corridor,” said Curtis Archer, President of Harlem Community Development Corporation. “It took a forward thinking vision to rezone Frederick Douglass Boulevard and transform that corridor into Harlem’s first ‘Restaurant Row’.”
Not only did the effort stimulate development on the boulevard, but it also included the development of affordable housing for middle class families. The Frederick Douglass Boulevard rezoning resulted in more than 800 new housing units, dozens of new restaurants, and the construction of the first hotel (Aloft Hotel) to open in Harlem in more than 50 years.
“C. Virginia Fields was not only the visionary and the spark that started the revitalization of the Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, but she was also a true leader and steward that assisted at every step and juncture to turn the corridor into the vibrant, blossoming community that it is today,” said Ken Haron, President of Artimus Construction.
“As a resident and restaurant owner on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, I am grateful for her vision,” says Susannah Koteen, owner of Lido Restaurant and Co-President of FDBA. “Ms. Fields’ designation of the corridor as Harlem’s Restaurant Row not only made this an attractive area to residents, but the great culinary environment has also provided careers for many local residents.”
Starting her career as a social worker, Ms. Fields developed an interest in social and political advocacy, eventually being elected to the New York City Council, representing Harlem, in 1989, then to the New York State Assembly and then Manhattan Borough President in 1998.
“I can’t think of a more worthy honoree for this first time award. She has a long list of proud accomplishments, but the transformation of Frederick Douglass Boulevard has to be up there,” said Paimaan Lodhi, Co-President of FDBA. “The turnaround has been spectacular. This is easily Harlem’s most vibrant corridor.”
Following this year’s honor, the award for Leadership and Community Development will be named after C. Virginia Fields.