126th Street African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project

  • East 126th Harlem African Burial Ground Project site
  • Rev. Singletary speaking at the info session
  • Interactive board of memorial precedents
  • HABGTF speaking with community
  • Community members looking at informational display boards
Last Updated July 14, 2017

In partnership with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, and the East 126th Street Bus Depot Task Force, NYCEDC has launched a community-based planning process for the redevelopment of the former East 126th Street MTA Bus Depot. The project will honor the history of the site and meet the needs of the community through a new memorial and mixed-use, mixed-income development.

Project Summary

The former MTA bus depot in East Harlem was once the site of an African burial ground dating back to the seventeenth century. The 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project is a unique initiative to preserve this essential piece of Harlem and New York City history. 

At the heart of the project is the creation of a living memorial and cultural center that acknowledges the historical significance of the site. The project will also include a mixed-use development component with housing, commercial uses, and public open space that meet the needs of the East Harlem community.

Since early 2015, NYCEDC has worked in partnership with the Speaker's Office on a robust, community-based planning process for the redevelopment of the site. The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force (HABGTF) and Bus Depot Task Force (BDTF) were formed to help determine the best uses for the site. Learn more about those efforts in our informational Project Brochure (English, Spanish) and Project FAQ (English, Spanish). 

Public Review Process

On February 21, 2017, the project entered the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Prior to this, the project underwent an environmental review with a public scoping meeting held on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. The Final Scope of Work, which includes a Response to Scoping Comments, as well as the full Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS), can be found on the Mayor's Office of Environmental Coordination website.

Recently, in response to the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan's call for deep affordability, the City committed 20 percent of the site's residential units to be affordable to families earning no more than 30% of Area Median Income (AMI). As the project advances through public review, the affordability program will continue to be refined through community input. Over the course of ULURP, NYCEDC presented on the proposed set of land use actions at a series of public meetings:

  • Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - Community Board 11 Land Use Committee Meeting, 7 East 116th Street, 6:00pm, NYCEDC presentation
  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - Community Board 11 Full Board and Public Hearing, Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, 6:30pm, NYCEDC presentation and opportunity for public comment 
  • Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - Community Board 11 Economic Development Committee Meeting, 7 East 116th Street, 6:00pm, NYCEDC presentation
  • Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - Community Board 11 Land Use Committee Meeting, 7 East 116th Street, 6:00pm, NYCEDC presentation and CB 11 Land Use Committee resolution
  • Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - Community Board 11 Full Board Vote, Location TBD, 6:30pm

All presentations are open to the public. For questions or more information, email the NYCEDC project team at [email protected]

History

The East 126th Street Bus Depot site has had many uses over the years. It once sat within the Dutch village of Nieuw Haarlem, which was then a sparsely populated agricultural area far removed from the densely developed settlement of New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan. Over 350 years ago, the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem and its associated cemeteries were located in this Dutch settlement, with the first church building on or near a portion of the bus depot site and near the shore of the Harlem River. The Harlem River was wider at that time and extended through the northeastern corner of the bus depot lot. Over time, the shoreline was filled into the east, expanding the block to its current dimensions. The site was developed into an amusement park at one point and casino at another, and later into a film studio. The property’s historical development culminated with the construction of the existing bus depot in the 1930's.

Adjoining the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem was a plot of land identified as the “African Burying Ground at Harlem,” now known as the Harlem African Burial Ground, which had stayed active until at least 1856. The church, however, was relocated in 1825 and the burial ground was sold in 1853, thus marking the beginning of a succession of sales, different uses, and adjustments to the burial ground site. Unfortunately, the decades of neglect, construction, and subsurface disruptions resulted in the altering of the original Harlem African Burial Ground.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is currently in the process of vacating the bus depot and returning the site to the City. Acknowledging the immense historical significance of the site, the City has begun its work in partnership with the speaker of the New York City council's office, elected officials, and community stakeholders to develop a transformative mixed-use project at the site, centered on a new Harlem African Burial Ground memorial and cultural center to honor the significance of the site and its descendant community.

Archaeological Findings

In the early 2000s, an intensive documentary study found the potential for a historic cemetery in the vicinity of the East 126th Street Bus Depot site, requiring archaeological monitoring for proposed construction. MTA completed a Phase 1A archaeological assessment in 2011, and NYCEDC commissioned a Phase 1B archaeological assessment in 2015.  

Learn more about the Phase 1B and its archaeological findings from the video below.

Community Involvement

NYCEDC has led a robust community engagement process through a series of meetings with the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force and the East 126th Street Bus Depot Task Force, in close coordination with the Speaker's office.

Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force 

In 2009, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force was created, co-chaired by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, the pastor of the Elmendorf Church.

This task force was instrumental in guiding the historical research and discovery of the African Burial Ground site. In 2011, Community Board 11 designated the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force as the organization representing the interest of the historic colonial cemetery.

The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force has been instrumental in helping guide the process of development, with the following mission:

Working with the City of New York, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force seeks the creation of a vibrant memorial that is fully integrated into the social and economic fabric of East Harlem. The mission of the task force is to ensure that any new development on this sacred site be iconic in design and honor the lives and contributions of enslaved and free African colony and nation builders, their descendants, and indigenous people who inhabited Manhattan before the arrival of Europeans.

This unique waterfront location reveals Harlem’s and New York City's rich history and inspires its social, economic and spiritual future. Its redevelopment incorporates openness, grace and innovation. Nearby Harlem River Park, Harlem River Drive, Willis Avenue Bridge, 2nd Avenue Subway, and the larger neighborhood are visually connected through elegant landscaping, architecture and urban design that highlights this place, embracing residents and visitors alike.

In this sacred memorial place, the spirits of those once forgotten will be remembered: their wisdom will be received and renewed, and their stories will take their rightful place in the rich American narrative.

Read more information on the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force and their work on their website.

Bus Depot Task Force

In 2015, after the MTA moved much of their operation off-site, the Speaker’s office convened the East 126th Street Bus Depot Task Force, a group of elected officials, City agencies, and community stakeholders including the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, to discuss the goals for the site.  

After many meetings, it was determined that the future of the site should have the following goals:

  • Develop a living memorial and cultural center to honor and commemorate the significant social, economic, and cultural history of the cemetery and its descendant community
  • Create a mixed-use, mixed-income development program
  • Enhance site connectivity to the neighborhood
  • Realize a financially feasible program to support project uses
  • Maximize job creation

Fall Open House

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the E126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project Info Session on Thursday, September 15th, 2016! Over 100 community members attended to hear remarks from Rev. Dr. Patricia Singletary of the Elmendorf Reformed Church, then-NYCEDC President and CEO Maria Torres-Springer, Diane Collier of Manhattan Community Board 11, and Director of the Manhattan Borough President's Northern Manhattan Office and learn about the significance of the historic Harlem African burial ground site. Guests were encouraged to browse the display boards with information about the past, present, and future of the site while facilitating a visioning process for its next stage.

Materials from the Info Session are available for download below:

Environmental Review

The Final Scope of Work, Notice of Completion, Draft General Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), Final General Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), and all contact information can be downloaded on from the project page on the website of the Mayor's Office of Environmental Coordination.

News & Updates