NEW YORK -- The Potamkin dealership group is buying nearly an entire block of city-owned land in Harlem to build a motor mall that would include at least one dealership owned and operated by the group and up to four additional stores that would be factory-owned.
Including the value of the real estate and buildings, the Potamkin group's investment in the Harlem Auto Mall, at 127th Street and Second Avenue, could reach $50 million to $60 million.
The proposed dealerships would be the first new-car dealerships in Harlem since the 1960s, said Robert Potamkin, co-chairman of Potamkin Auto Group. The plan also stands out because the dealership group is developing the facility to lease to a factory tenant, instead of the other way around.
Potamkin said the original idea was to establish three dealerships owned and operated by his group. But automakers, whom he did not identify, shot down that idea and proposed using the site for minority dealer development.
"They were nice about it, but they said, 'Instead of that (original proposal), would you mind?' " changing the focus to minority dealers, Potamkin said.
Civli rights leader Jesse Jackson has criticized the auto industry for the absence of dealerships in Harlem and for the scarcity of minority-owned dealerships in general.
Generous city, state, and federal incentives help make the business case for the project. So do demographics. Rents will be about one-fifth of what they are at the auto row in Manhattan, Potamkin said, and more high-wage earners are starting to move to Harlem to escape the expensive housing costs in midtown and downtown Manhattan.
"People don't know Harlem; they think it's a ghetto," Potamkin said. "But Harlem is increasingly becoming northern Manhattan."
If all goes well, the project could be under construction within a year, Potamkin said.