Ken J. Knuckles, CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ) is retiring in June after 15 years at the helm.
Knuckles has had a significant impact on the organization, which works to sustain the economic revitalization of all communities throughout Harlem, and on the greater Harlem community. UMEZ has provided $87 million in loans for real estate projects, $57 million in tax-exempt bonds for real estate development and $98 million in grants focused on arts, culture and workforce development.
The organization’s Board of Directors is currently conducting a national search for candidates to fill the position with the aim of selecting a new President and CEO before the end of the Spring.
“For over a decade, Ken Knuckles has led the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, pioneering bold initiatives to create opportunity for the entire Harlem community, and as a member of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “He has been a critical partner in our efforts to drive economic growth and development. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I thank Ken for his leadership and vision, and wish him the best in his next endeavors.”
Joseph J. Johnson III, the UMEZ Board Chairman and Senior Vice President, Goldman Sachs & Co said: “Ken has been faithful to the mission and charge of UMEZ in not only helping revitalize the communities of Upper Manhattan by growing small businesses, but he has also helped to strengthen vital and longstanding cultural institutions with funding and technical support that allow these organizations to continue enriching the community and New York City as a whole.”
“It has been an honor to serve as Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone’s President and CEO for 15 remarkable years, helping grow the number of jobs and enhancing cultural and economic developments in these communities has been an astounding experience,” the departing Knuckles said. “With the support of the board and my colleagues, UMEZ has played a large role in the revitalization of Upper Manhattan and will continue to do so.”
UMEZ was designated as an urban empowerment zone under federal legislation authored by Congressman Charles B. Rangel and signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The borders of the empowerment zone were created to assist the residents that had the highest concentration of poverty as indicated by the 1990 Census.
Former Congressman Rangel said when the Empowerment Zone legislation was passed when Bill Clinton was president in 1994, the intention was to bring investment, access to capital and job creation for local residence in Upper Manhattan. He pointed to significant investments 24 years later “throughout this community from East Harlem to Inwood, 10,000 jobs created, cultural institutions that are now stronger than they’ve ever been, and small businesses that have opened and flourished, all with capital from UMEZ.” He added: “I owe Ken Knuckles a debt of gratitude for his leadership in transforming my legislation into action that has transformed my community for the better.”
Knuckles worked with the UMEZ board to provide a $15 million loan to East River Plaza—the first of its kind big box retail complex in East Harlem—resulting in the creation of over 1,000 jobs; a $5 million loan for the retail renovation of the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal; and expanded retail investment with more that $12 million in small business lending. He helped to catalyze the growth of the tourism industry with more than $45 million in grants from the UMEZ Cultural Industry Fund going to arts organizations like The Apollo Theatre, Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, Harlem Stage, Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, Harlem Stage, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.