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Harlem Lawmakers, Residents Push Back Against 'SoHa' Rebranding Effort

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A battle is brewing between brokers and residents, as well as activists and lawmakers, over what to call a section of Harlem.

As CBS2's Scott Rapoport reported, protesters gathered Monday morning in front of the historic Apollo Theater to push back on an idea to rebrand the culturally rich and historic neighborhood as "SoHa," short for South Harlem. It's an effort by some to bring the trendiness of places like SoHo to Harlem.

"Give me a break," said former Gov. David Paterson. "We don't need this."

"Harlem is not just a neighborhood," said U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y. "It is a personality."

Some businesses and realtors have already started the rebranding effort, which would cover the area from 110th to 125th streets. The controversial acronym is already visible in some places. One realtor even boasts of a "SoHa team," but employees refused to discuss it with CBS2.

The rebranding is an idea that does not sit well with many in Harlem, who see the neighborhood as the black capital of America and any attempt to change the name as insulting and demeaning.

"It's history, it's culture, the importance of having one community," said former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

But some Harlem residents feel differently.

"I think it's cool," one woman said. "Why not? I mean, we're up and coming."

The rebranding is not a particularly new idea. Other places dubbed NoLIta and NoHo and DUMBO will you tell that.

But there is concern that a rebranding to SoHa could lead to even more high-end development and high-price housing, ultimately resulting in some black residents being pushed out.

"We need the community to decide what it's name is, not real estate brokers and people who just show up overnight trying to make a buck off our neighborhood and our heritage and our legacy," said state Sen. Brian Benjamin, D-Manhattan.

Espaillat said he is presenting a special resolution in Congress "that would establish Harlem and the greater Harlem area permanently as Harlem."

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