Former President Clinton has abandoned plans for an expensive office suite in a tower high above midtown Manhattan and hopes instead to locate in renovated space near the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, Clinton aides said.
The planned move to a storied African American neighborhood and cultural hub, whose decades-long decline into crime and poverty eventually made it synonymous with urban blight, is designed to extract the former president from one of several controversies that have shadowed him since leaving office Jan. 20.
Clinton's original choice, atop the Carnegie Hall Towers on 57th Street, was blasted as more expensive than the quarters rented by the federal government for other ex-presidents combined. To blunt the criticism, Clinton earlier this month announced his foundation would pay $300,000 of some $800,000 in annual rent.
With his latest plans, aides say Clinton plans to move beyond damage-control and turn his choice of offices into a positive statement. The space he hopes to rent is in a federal "empowerment zone" designed to revitalize inner cities through government investment and tax incentives. The program became law with Clinton's signature, and he spent the last year of his presidency promoting ventures to encourage redevelopment in impoverished areas.
Clinton's chief of staff, Karen Tramontano, toured several places in Harlem, joined by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who represents Harlem and was an original sponsor of empowerment zones. They settled on a place at 55 W. 125th St., and Clinton plans to visit the space soon. The plan is for the General Services Administration to begin negotiating terms of the lease immediately thereafter, Clinton aides said.
"He wants to be a good neighbor in a neighborhood and community that wants him," said Julia Payne, a Clinton spokeswoman.
Between-the-lines of that statement, say some Clinton confidants, is resentment by the former president toward major news organizations, many of which helped promote the controversy into a large story, and are headquartered in midtown.
Rangel referred to the Harlem office space as "state-of-the-art."
Aides to Clinton said they did not know yet what the rent will be at 125th Street, but expect GSA will negotiate a lease for considerably less than the 57th Street site.
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