NYC Looking for Operator of Cultural Center at African Burial Ground

African Burial Ground National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument

NEW YORK, NY – New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) in collaboration with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) released a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) to select a non-profit arts or cultural organization to operate a memorial and cultural education center at the site of a historic African Burial Ground associated with the former Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem dating back to the late 17th century.

The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force (HABGTF), a group of citizens working with the City and the descendant church of the Reformed Low Dutch Church, was founded in 2009 and designated by Manhattan Community Board 11 in 2011 as the group representing the interest of the Burial Ground. The HABGTF, led by co-chairs Reverend Dr. Patricia A. Singletary and former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, have called for the recognition of the historical Burial Ground and the development of a memorial and cultural center where the history of the site and of Harlem can be shared and explored with the public.

Assisting NYCEDC in the review and assessment of responses will be an advisory group comprised of HABGTF members, City officials, and local professionals and leaders in the cultural field. This group will provide critical insights from their expertise with the project to ensure that the responses are consistent with the vision of the HABGTF. Convened by DCLA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, this group of volunteers will share their knowledge of the site’s history, organizational development, capital campaigns, cultural programming, operations, and urban design to identify strong responses.

  • Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner, DCLA, Convener
  • Rev. Singletary, Reverend, Elmendorf Reformed Church (HABGTF Co-chair)
  • Melissa Mark-Viverito, Former Speaker for NY City Council (HABGTF Co-chair)
  • Sharon Wilkins, Deputy Borough Historian, Manhattan (HABGTF member)
  • Justin Moore, Executive Director, Public Design Commission
  • Patricia Cruz, Executive Director, Harlem Stage
  • Michael Lythcott, Board Chair, National Black Theatre
  • Joy Glidden, Capital Campaign Director, Vermont Contemporary Art Museum, Founder, DUMBO Arts Center

In 2015, NYCEDC began working in partnership with the HABGTF, Manhattan Community Board 11, and the Bus Depot Task Force which included elected officials, City agencies, and community stakeholders (including the HABGTF), and established goals for the redevelopment of the now decommissioned East 126th Street Bus Depot, which occupies an entire city block. After approval of the proposed land-use changes through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in 2017, the project will include the memorial and cultural education center, new housing, 80 percent of which will be designated as permanently affordable housing, community facility space, as well as job-generating commercial space and a plan to train and hire East Harlem residents.

The permanent public memorial will be approximately 18,000 square feet in size and open to the sky at the location of the historic Burial Ground. To encourage the long-term success of the Memorial and Cultural Education Center, the City has committed to requiring an annual contribution from the future developer to offset operating costs. Additional archaeological and preservation work will take place at the site before any new development occurs and the City has committed to ensuring that the memorial and cultural center are the first completed components of the redevelopment.

NYCEDC will be hosting two information sessions about the RFEI to provide an overview of the procurement and answer questions related to the project. The first session will be held at One Liberty Plaza and the second session will be held at Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College on October 29, 2019. All proposals are due on December 10, 2019, and questions regarding this RFEI should be directed to

“The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Cultural Education Center will honor East Harlem as a sacred place of historical learning and serve as an inspiration for both residents and visitors alike,” said NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett. “I’m pleased that we are moving closer to making it a reality, and I want to thank Council Member Ayala, the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, Manhattan Community Board 11 and the local community for their ceaseless dedication and support on this project.”