New York State gave its final approval on Wednesday for Columbia's General Project Plan for the University's 17-acre campus expansion into Manhattanville.
The plan was approved by the Public Authorities Control Board, a group of New York state officials appointed by the governor to oversee the state’s “project-related financings,” according to the Web site of the state’s Budget Division. The PACB vote concludes the state review process for the Manhattanville development and comes around a week after Columbia's community benefits agreement was approved by the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a group of neighborhood representatives.
“On Columbia's new campus, its first in over a century, we will be able to find cures for diseases that afflict humanity, identify solutions to the problems of global society, enlighten people through the arts, explore the benefits of entrepreneurship, as we as provide jobs and countless other benefits for our city and community. We are thrilled to now be able to move forward,” University President Lee Bollinger said in a statement following the vote.
New York Governor David Paterson, CC '77, said in a statement, "The expansion of one of New York’s oldest educational institutions will enhance the vitality of both the University and its neighboring community, while meeting the long-term needs of its residents."
“While the national recession has led to a decline in development in New York, this $6.3 billion project will be one of the largest to move forward this year, resulting in 14,000 construction jobs over 25 years and 6,000 University positions," Paterson added. "Recognizing the needs of our West Harlem community, the project also includes a community benefits agreement that will provide scholarships for local residents, medical facilities for school-age children and enhanced curricula for local secondary schools."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also made a statement about the approval, saying, "The Public Authorities Control Board’s decision—the culmination of a long–standing collaboration among Columbia, City and State agencies, local elected officials, and the local community—will enable a critically important job-creating economic development initiative to move forward."
But while the PACB vote was the final hurdle in the long review process for Columbia's development, the project still faces some obstacles.
On Thursday, the New York State Appellate Court will hold a hearing on an appeal brought by Manhattanville storage facility owner Nick Sprayregen against the state's use of eminent domain to seize private property in the University's expansion area. Sprayregen is one of two landowners that have not struck property deals with Columbia—the other is the Singh family, which owns two neighborhood gas stations—and both will be subject to eminent domain if they do not negotiate with the University. Through eminent domain, the state would seize their land and hand control of it to the University, which would reimburse the owners according to the market rate of the properties.
"Although I am disappointed at the PACB vote today, I am not at all surprised," Sprayregen wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. "The vote was merely perfunctory; one example of this is that not a single question was asked during the presentation today."
On Thursday's hearing, he added, "We remain cautiously optimistic that the jurists will see that the Columbia expansion can still be accomplished without the improper and illegal use of eminent domain."
School of General Studies student Ben Totushek—a member of campus activist group, Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification—wrote in an e-mail that the PACB decision was "conveniently timed to influence tomorrow's landmark eminent domain hearing, and shows just how concerned a plurality of powerful special interests including the Mayor of NYC and the Governor of New York have been about the legal merits of the State's case that this constitutes a 'civic project.'"
Nellie Bailey—president of the Harlem Tenants Council and a member of local activist organization, Coalition to Preserve Community—also spoke out against the state's decision, asserting that the project's approval was already certain and that the PACB vote was merely "going through the sheer formalities of all of this." She added, "I don’t think the University has adequately addressed the concerns of the community with respect to the project."
Bailey expressed skepticism about the University's promise that the development will create thousands of jobs, particularly during the campus construction. "I find it implausible given the fact that the construction industry has just announced layoffs of 10,000 construction jobs to be lost, and given the economic downturn," she said.
Check columbiaspectator.com for updates.