By Betsy Morais
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 21, 2007
Manhattanville business owner Nick Sprayregen, whose refusal to sell his property has posed an obstacle to Columbia’s expansion plans, formally proposed a property swap with the University in a letter to the Empire State Development Corporation earlier this month.
Up until this point, Sprayregen, the owner of Tuck-It-Away Associates and the largest property owner in the footprint of the expansion plan after the University itself, had discussed the offer of a trade deal only in the press. The Nov. 9 letter that Sprayregen and his lawyer, Norman Siegel, submitted to ESDC Chair Patrick Foye also reiterated their desire to avoid state condemnation of neighborhood buildings through eminent domain.
Although Sprayregen said he would ideally like to keep his properties, his letter to the ESDC offered a compromise in which he would trade 3261 Broadway, 614 W. 131st St., and 655 W. 125th St. for university-owned buildings on the east side of Broadway. He said he feels that this deal would compensate him fairly and make a cohesive campus possible for Columbia at the same time.
ESDC spokesperson A.J. Carter confirmed that the letter had been received but declined to comment further. The agency has yet to reply to Sprayregen, who followed up with a phone message a few days later.
“I can only guess the ESDC do not smile when they hear the names Sprayregen and Siegel. We have caused them grief, time, and money,” Sprayregen said.
Sprayregen and Siegel are currently involved in four lawsuits against the ESDC as they seek access to 117 Manhattanville development-related documents under the Freedom of Information Law that the state argues are private, inter-agency materials exempt from FOIL. The ESDC is appealing a ruling this summer which ordered that the documents be released, and a ruling on the appeal is scheduled for December.
Yet Sprayregen still has not directly presented his proposed property trade to Columbia. He explained that the idea has been “out there” for a while and that the University’s lack of response “shows their utter belligerence and lack of desire to compromise.”
But Columbia spokesperson La-Verna Fountain emphasized that representatives have been in touch with Sprayregen and his family for years. She explained that Columbia has not responded to the property exchange proposal because it is against University policy to negotiate through the press.
Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin expressed his willingness to negotiate if Sprayregen were to propose his land swap to the University. “Columbia looks forward to hearing more directly from him,” Kasdin said.
Reverend Reggie Williams of the Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville, a pro-expansion group organized by lobbyists for Columbia, called Sprayregen’s proposed land trade an “eleventh hour swap,” and cited it as evidence that Sprayregen is trying to circumvent the development process.
Though Siegel and Sprayregen have described their fight against Columbia as a David and Goliath battle, some say that the self-dubbed David isn’t a genuine underdog. Reverend Williams said the biblical analogy was inapt: “Being a multimillionaire doesn’t make you a David,” he said.
“How do you define David?” Fountain asked. “He has his own plan. He has his own objectives. He is a business man.”
Reverend Williams and others who question Sprayregen’s true motives have expressed that he seeks to serve his own interests rather than those of the community.
“The fact is I am,” Sprayregen said, admitting that he is looking out for himself. “These are my properties. Of course I am trying to protect the properties my family has owned. I think anyone in my position would do the same thing.”
Though he has put a deal on the table, Sprayregen also acknowledges that he is spoiling for a fight. He said that ultimate success would mean not compromising with Columbia and the ESDC on his case so that it eventually reaches the Supreme Court. If the case does reach the highest court in America there will be a “ruling that dramatically changes the landscape across the entire nation in terms of these development driven eminent domain fights,” Sprayregen said.
Until then, Sprayregen has leveraged his considerable resources to put together a “legal dream team” to fight against eminent domain.
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"it is against University policy to negotiate through the press"
Hahaha. Really. Where's that policy written, I wonder? Can I find it in FACETS? Come on, La-Verna, you can do better than that.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 21st, 2007 @ 11:57am