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Emmitt Smith Wants to Break Harlem's 125th Street Curse

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Emmitt Smith can do it all?win Super Bowls, dance with the stars, garble his words uncontrollably on ESPN?but can he succeed where so many others have failed and build a new hotel on 125th Street? The Wall Street Journal reports that the legendary running back is part of a group of investors that wants to bring a 200-room Hyatt to a massive eyesore of a lot at 125th and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. And check out this bone thrown to the locals: Two floors of retail space could include a Whole Foods. But before condo buyers at Fifth on the Park start Googling quinoa recipes, let's look at the factors that may give Smith and his teammates the stiff-arm.

The $80 million project isn't crazy expensive, but in addition to seeking private financing, the developers want nearly $20 million from the city's kitty of federal tax-exempt financing. The city is considering the proposal and may decide as soon as Monday, but the money represents the full remaining balance of the $120 million NYC got from the feds in 2009 to kick-start commercial development. Does the city really want to empty its pockets for a Dallas Cowboy? Punch Frank Gifford in the face while you're at it!

And let's not forget the track record of recent big proposals for 125th Street. Despite the rezoning of Harlem's Main Street, meant to spur new development, the downturn pretty much has kept things as-is. Another empty site nearby was already eyed for a hotel designed by Enrique Norten, but that went nowhere. (The Aloft is at 124th Street, and therefore has been able to avoid the curse.) Will this case be any different? A hotel specialist for a commercial real estate firm told the WSJ that he's "cautiously optimistic the project will be successful." Not quite a stirring Lombardi-esque pep talk, but quiet confidence may be the better path to victory.
· Football's Emmitt Smith Plans Harlem Hotel [WSJ]