By Sewell Chan
A map showing Columbia University’s expansion plan. Click to enlarge.
After an unusually lengthy debate, the New York City Council cleared the way for a 17-acre campus expansion by Columbia University, the largest in its history.
The expansion, encompassing the area between 125th and 133rd Streets, from Broadway west to the Hudson River, would mark the greatest change in Columbia’s footprint since the 1890s, when it moved from Midtown to Morningside Heights.
The $7 billion expansion, which will occur over the next 25 years, will be the largest development project in Manhattan in recent memory. Columbia has said it intends to extend its campus onto only 17 acres, which are bounded roughly by Broadway on the east, the Hudson River on the west, West 125 th Street on the south and West 133rd Street on the north.
While the rezoning of the area from light manufacturing to mixed-use removes the university’s last hurdle to expand, some elements of the plan remain to be settled — including whether the university will seek to use eminent domain to remove commercial property owners who have so far refused to sell their land to Columbia.
But Columbia officials said the expansion was necessary if the institution, cramped for space, was to remain competitive with its Ivy League peers, several of which are either in the midst of expanding or are considering expanding.
”Columbia has only a fraction of the space enjoyed by our leading peers across the country,” said Lee C. Bollinger, president of the university.
Columbia completed a draft environmental impact statement for the project in June, but the criticism had begun much earlier.
The expansion plan was sharply criticized at a public hearing in October and was one focus of a student hunger strike in November. As part of the real estate boom, colleges and universities have been erecting new buildings around the city, straining town-gown relations.
The City Planning Commission endorsed the expansion on Nov. 26 after a contentious debate.
Government & Politics, Buildings and Landmarks, Higher Education, Land Use and Planning, City Council, Columbia University, Harlem, Lee C. Bollinger
Planning Panel Approves Columbia Expansion
A Week Into the Columbia Hunger Strike
When the Gown Devours the Town
Columbia Again Defends Its Expansion Plan
39 comments so far...
It’s wonderful news for the entire city, for Columbia, and for especially Manhattanville — a blighted area that desperately needs a facelict.
— Posted by Steven M.
2. December 19th,20076:24 pm
“The expansion has been bitterly opposed by many in West Harlem, who have objected to the potential use of eminent domain, and out of fear that the residents of some of the last working class neighborhoods in Manhattan, which lie to the north of the expansion area, will be displaced by students and administrators who earn far more than the typical neighborhood resident.”
— Posted by Eric
I, along with my family, are the largest private property owners in Manhattanville fighting Columbia’s continued threat of using the state’s “police power” to take our property, (and property of others as well) against our will merely because Columbia wants it.
Columbia may be in a gleeful mood tonight; however the fight over right and wrong will continue tomorrow.
— Posted by Nick Sprayregen
how is this democracy?this is theft. outright.amazing…west, central and east harlem ought to unite, and the whole city.shame on c.u. and the council.
— Posted by John
Hopefully with this approval, a long-awaited renewal can begin in Manhattanville, a depressed area zoned “manufacturing” that has not manufactured anything in decades. Columbia urgently needs the additional space for teaching, research, and the new public math and science high school. The region needs the long-term investment that only an entity like Columbia can provide. I hope today is the start of a new era of growth and prosperity for Columbia — and New York, Sam.
— Posted by Sam
I just wonder how much these “community leaders” extorted from Columbia in set asides to let this plan go through. There is no question that our city will be far better off with an expanded Columbia than with the structures that are currently there.
— Posted by Camilo
How can they possibly justify using eminent domain in this case?
— Posted by Ken
I think this is an excellent opportunity for Columbia to expand and is necessary for the city’s future prosperity.
— Posted by j
Eric has it exactly right. Columbia ought to be encouraged to build higher, and that goes for much of the development in the city, but NY’ers seem to have a bizarre allergy to tall buildings, despite living in a city of skyscrapers.
Hooray for West Harlem and for Columbia, and for NYC. Great news.
— Posted by Sam
I applaud the council on a wise decision. Hopefully Mayor Bloomberg will sign this without too much delay and the construction can start! 25 years constitute a long time. The sooner we start, the better. As a current student, I don’t think I’ll be able to directly benefit from it before I graduate as an MD/PhD; nonetheless, countless other people will. But perhaps, in the coming quarter century, as a resident, professor, or life-long student I will, as well. Bravo, Columbia. Roar, Lion, ROAR !!
— Posted by Dr Dave
I was an actor (and unusually, frequently employed) who lived at 125 and Bway for a few years, sharing a small apartment with a friend in a stinking corner of a the city, because we could afford nothing more. I am delighted to hear that the nation’s wealthiest children will have an expanded campus (and undoubtedly remove my friend who still lives there) in their pursuit of knowledge and trust-fund enabled self-indulgence! Yeah for Columbia and the wealthiest among us!
— Posted by Tony Wichowski
It’s an abuse of eminent domain. Even council members voting for the plan today didn’t argue that it was a legitimate use of eminent domain, they just somehow were able to overlook governmental abuse of power.
Just like Atlantic Yards, this political approval of the Columbia expansion does not mean the state can take his property and hand it over to Columbia.
First the ESDC has to give its approval, which no doubt it will. Then the courts will have to approve. Then, as Nick posts above, right will win out.
— Posted by Daniel Goldstein
Eminent domain is not a ‘police power’, it is a constitutional power (5th amendment) and has been affirmed by multiple Supreme Court rulings. Moreover, the welfare of the state and other citizens may sometimes take precedence over the right of a tiny minority. For example, zoning laws and noise ordinances restrict the ability of private property owners to make use of their land, and no one objects to those. In some states, owners of ‘public forum’ commercial property (malls, etc) are required to allow free speech even if they disagree with it. Property rights are not absolute, and they are not ‘natural’ rights. You were not born with a right to buy land and own property in the same way you were born with the right to think and speak freely. These rights are given, and can be limited by, the state.
— Posted by David
Are you responsible for any of the billboards that are visible from the neighborhood, the waterfront, and the gateway into Manhattan? How is it that they are permitted when NYC has a law banning billboards near parks and parkways? Sympathetic to your cause, but must admit that Columbia might improve the public aesthetics.
— Posted by CK
To Commentors 4 & 7:
The Council did not approve the use of eminent domain, and was not even asked to do so. It voted to modify some zoning ordinances and to allow Columbia to build on land it owns. Columbia may never need to resort to eminent domain, and today’s vote does not give it that power. There will have to be other votes in the future before this can happen.
Columbia has very comprehensive financial aid programs, and many of its students are fully subsidized. Calling it an institution for the rich only proves that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
— Posted by CU Alum
OK– the site has been gobbled up and rezoned by the city cuncil. What will be lost– many long standing small businesses, La Floridita, people’s homes, art and performance spaces, Dinosaur BBQ, and one of the more modern MTA bus garages in the city. And who is going to have to pay to rebuild that elsewhere? Is Columbia going to pay to replace it? What will happen to the people who live there? Big projects like Yankee Stadium and Columbia always promises “jobs” but somehow these never materialize for the people who live and work in the neighborhood and who will now be displaced.
— Posted by karen
17. December 19th,20077:46 pm
The place is a dump. It’s about time development proceeded. Columbia’s activities are bound to generate more employment than what is there now. Hopefully, Columbia can work with what it owns and the city will hold back on the use of eminent domain. Rents in the area may increase, it’s true. On the other hand, when you live in a blighted area, what you don’t pay in rent, you pay in being victimized by crime or in fear of it, and in lousy public education. Living in a slum is rarely the great bargain that some young, strong, single males portray it to be.
— Posted by Kevin
As a graduate student at Columbia, I’m glad that Columbia has had its expansion plan approved. I will graduate before any of the new campus is completed, but I’m glad that Columbia will have the space to grow and remain a premier research institution. This is great news for the neighborhood and higher education.
— Posted by John C.
This is a wonderful thing for the City and Columbia. Eminent domain is entirely appropriate to achieve this public good. Columbia is a point of pride for New York City and should be allowed to do what it needs to remain competitive in the Ivy League. It is also a great public good for land to be used for its highest and best use.
— Posted by Marc
Those who REALLY see the big picture know that this is only one of many steps being taken by the powers that be to eliminate the cultural fabric of Harlem. What a great way to start the New Year.
— Posted by LT
In the case of Columbia, the New York State and New York City governments are planning on using eminent domain to ‘force’ private commercial property owners to sell their land. Eminent domain is only used when the result of private property seizure is necessary for the greater good. Columbia University and its many employees perform not-for-profit research for the public good, serving causes that benefit many. The few people that are refusing to sell are private commercial property owners who are for-profit entreprenuers whose work involves making money for themselves. Columbia’s expansion and the not-yet-employed use of eminent domain are a perfect example of necessary government intervention in order to overcome those concerned solely for themselves for the greater public good.
— Posted by Mark
This is exciting. Let’s hope Colmbia graces NYC with some spectacular architecture. With it’s neurosciences institute and arts expansion, we can be sure that Columbia will continue to make great contributions to NYC, the US and the world.
— Posted by alumna
Whatever ramifications Kelo etc. may have in terms of whether or not Columbia can secure this land through eminent domain seems to me beside the point. The point, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, is that we spend so much time asking could we that we neglect to ask whether we should.
Who does this expansion serve? And at whose expense does this sort of growth come?
— Posted by Zach
I understand the 5th amendment statement but to counter … is a private university’s interests constitute the betterment of the “state.” A large taxpayer should then employ a similar measure to tear down pre-existing companies that block his/her view of oceanfront property. A nation built on legal precedents and common law treads begins the trek down a dark path of privilege, power, and wealth.
— Posted by Lane
Just a little informal survey….
Out of those who oppose the expansion plan, how many of you would be willing to take a walk through the area in question, alone, at 2 AM on a Saturday morning? Now, how many of the women?
— Posted by Evan
Businesses that rent their premises get evicted when their landlords want to redevelop. I agree that it’s sad, but it’s also reality and there is nothing unique about Columbia’s plan in this regard. Also, the only performance space I know in the area is the re-created Cotton Club, which is going to remain where it is; in fact, the new facilities will vastly increase the performance space in the area. Columbia has agreed to re-locate Dinosaur BBQ in one of the new buildings. It may do likewise for La Floridita, though I have no information on this point.
— Posted by CU Alum
This is a disgrace. There is nothing new about Columbia being elitist and greedy. They have systematically evicted the working classes for years in an effort to compete with other universities.
— Posted by Harlemite
Social justice is about respecting the rights of citizens regardless of the power they wield or checks they write.
— Posted by D. Foley
To Zach (#24):
How is a mere 17 acres “half of West Harlem”? And given that hardly any of the 17 acres is residential, how will Columbia’s expansion have the dramatic impact on residents that you predict?
— Posted by Ed
Under the Community Board’s Recommendation’s Columbia University could have expanded, met its needs for the future, provided the for all of the benefits they claim will accrue from their expansion including the creation of jobs. They could have done this without using eminent domain to seize private property, without destroying historic structures and without exposing the community to unknown environmental problem. Under the plan as approved, Columbia will not only displace the three private property owners but the dozens of enterprises located in their properties and in the properties already owned by the University. Alternatives could have been found that would have avoided losing the 100’s of jobs that already exist in the area. The use of eminent domain was a choice based on hubris and power and not on need since alternatives to expand existed and were put forward by the Community Board who did not oppose Columbia’s expansion. They opposed how Columbia chose to expand. The Council’s rush to judgement did not give the Council members the time to learn about these alternatives and about the economic and environmental costs of the proposal. The community, the students and all New Yorkers are the losers as a result of this expedited process.
— Posted by Ron Shiffman
wow. so many responses. great to see - this is a topic that many “feel” about. It is unfortunate though that many who are critical of my statements, (see above) or those of others in the community, are not informed enough, (not fault of theirs though), to really understand how what this institution is doing is so wrong.
— Posted by nick sprayregen
To commenter 15:
I was admitted to Columbia’s graduate program in public affairs (Schl. of Int’l & Public Affairs) in the early 1990s, but was only offered a miserly 5,000 dollars per year in work-study aid, even though I was from a working-class background. The lack of sufficient financial assistance prevented me from enrolling. The notion that Columbia “has very comprehensive financial programs” did not apply to its professional graduate programs at that time, even though students opting for a career in public service could only expect to earn starting salaries in the mid-30,000 dollar per year range. Perhaps the situation has improved since then, but I am skeptical . . .
— Posted by praxis132
#16 - You speak without knowing any facts:
According to Marilyn Taylor, a representative of Columbia’s design team:
“The plan, she said, is to preserve signature buildings and businesses currently in the area, including La Floridita restaurant, Dinosaur Barbecue and a recently opened tapas bar.”
— Posted by Richard
34. December 19th,20079:10 pm
Firstly, the bust depot will be placed underground, under the northern part of campus, in a new facility for CNG and hybrid-electric busses. Same with the ConEd substation. Secondly, all the service businesses that are there now can relocate into the new buildings’ lower floors, as per the design. Thirdly there are only a handful of “arts” facilities, and I’m sure the School of the Arts will be able to fill some of the void. Don’t forget the high school, the brain research center, the park, and all the buildings that will be built so that Columbia won’t have to expand as much in the future. Finally, the kind of lab space Columbia needs - to compete with state schools as well as elite institutions - is very technically complicated and specific, and needs the buildings built as designed. Jane Jacob’s quote about “New ideas need old spaces” really does not apply here.
— Posted by Neil
As a downtowner, NYU Alum, we always suffered from “Heights envy.” Lucky you all are that this great university, Columbia is even in your midst. Do you not enjoy walking across College Walk, attending many free concerts, talks, the grass and trees, and the sheet “open spaces” afforded by the beautiful campus?
If you can’t Beat’ em — Join ‘em!
— Posted by Go Violet!
As someone who has shopped at fairway for over a decade, and is an undergraduate alumnus of Columbia, I am surprised at the backlash over the general concept of Columbia developing the area in question into a new campus. Although I agree I wish they had not resorted to the whole imminent domain tactic, the fundamental question of whether the area would benefit and whether Columbia needs the space are really quite obvious. In terms of ‘historic sites’ the buildings sited are Prentiss Hall (which lies outside the area to be developed), the Studebaker building which Columbia is currently using all but one floor of for administrative offices and plans to keep, a bus terminal which could easily be moved underground as part of the project, and some train tracks which most people are unaware of. The number of residences is minuscule, and Columbia has offered to pay to relocate all of the tenants. In exchange, the area will get tons of new buildings and jobs, and a currently largely empty and barren area will become a bustling collegiate neighborhood. How is this a bad thing for anyone?
— Posted by Ben
To Writer Number 14 -
yes - i am the one responsible for those signs. to the extent that you have some issues with them I suggest you take a quick look at the United States Constitution. As I remember, something about freedom of speech…
— Posted by nick sprayregen
once again, i feel the need to chime in…i for one, and, i must say, most in the West Harlem community, have never been against the expansion per se. This is an Ivy League institution that states it needs more space. I respect that. There will be benefits for all by way of the expansion. However, the use of eminent domain is not acceptable, appropriate or ethical in this case.
— Posted by nick sprayregen
The irony of Mr. Sprayregen referencing the Constitution regarding freedom of speech but choosing to ignore what it also says about eminent domain is simply genius.
— Posted by Tim