Harlem disappointed with BET network's move uptown

— Two years after arriving in Harlem with great fanfare, Black Entertainment Television announced it was swapping its uptown digs for a midtown address � much to the chagrin of black business and political leaders.

"We were disappointed about the news," Terry Lane, chief executive of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, said Thursday. "Given the culturally specific programming that BET does, it seemed logical that Harlem would be its home."

Instead, the black-oriented network was relocating to the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street after breaking off negotiations for a bigger space about 20 blocks north of its current Harlem location.

Both CBS and BET are owned by Viacom, which purchased Black Entertainment Television in November 2000 for nearly $3 billion.

"Harlem had a great pride in its selection by BET," said U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, whose district includes the neighborhood. "There's no question that we, more than CBS or downtown, exemplify what the station is supposed to stand for."

City officials were talking with BET to anchor its Gotham Plaza project at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.

"I thought it was a done deal," Rangel said of that plan. "We did all the celebrating as though it had happened."

But Lane said officials at the empowerment zone � which had helped lure BET uptown two years ago with a variety of tax breaks � discovered the network was breaking off talks through a press release.

BET had moved to Harlem several months before the Viacom purchase.

Attempts to reach BET officials about resuscitating the Harlem plan were unsuccessful, both Lane and Rangel said. A BET spokesman did not return calls for comment.

In a statement released late Wednesday, BET president and chief operating officer Debra Lee said the network would "continue to look for programming opportunities in Harlem when feasible."

The network will also "remain open to the possibility of office space and production facilities in Harlem should our future business needs dictate additional expansion," Lee said. No timetable for the move downtown was announced.

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