Five months after the University announced that the first floor of the School of Social Work building would become academic space, local politicians are up in arms—again.
Last Thursday, Community Board 9 passed a resolution calling on Columbia to lease the ground-floor space, located on Amsterdam between 121st Street and Morningside Drive, to a retail tenant in order to bring business activity to the area. New York State Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell also issued a statement on Friday supporting the resolution.
“There were a number of promises made for that site to the community,” said CB9 member Brad Taylor, who drafted the resolution. “We want Columbia to retain this space for community use and not for academic purposes.”
In January, the University said that the space would become an academic center for the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Renovations for the new Center for Global Design and Development should begin this summer, according to University spokesperson Victoria Benitez.
The space was initially—but unofficially—slated to become retail space, and University spokesperson Dan Held said in a September statement that the University had tried renting it out for more than five years before deciding to use the 7,000 square feet for academic space.
The CB9 resolution maintains that the University gave up too soon on prospective tenants, and put them at a disadvantage with artificially high rents.
“Local merchants who were interested in the space were quoted rents far above the going rate for this kind of space in the neighborhood,” the resolution says. The University declined to comment on its asking rents.
The resolution passed 29-1.
Tom Kappner, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a neighborhood activist group that opposes the Manhattanville expansion, spoke in support of the resolution Thursday.
Kappner, who lives across the street from the School of Social Work building, urged community members to confront the University on this issue.
“They promised us retail space at the School of Social Work,” he said. “Let them know we will not trust any of their promises about the future of Manhattanville if they continually ignore commitments made in the past.”
When the site of the Social Work building was being debated 2000 and 2001, ground-floor retail space was one recommendation that came from a community task force. The University has maintained that it made good-faith efforts to rent the space, and O’Donnell acknowledged last year that the retail space was never part of a legal contract.
But the Assembly member said that this was “merely the most recent example in a long string of broken promises to the community.”
“I applaud the Community Board for taking this stand,” O’Donnell said in a statement Friday.
Taylor said that the resolution has been given to the University trustees.
“This is a matter of trust between the community and the University,” Taylor said. “Lots of agreements are being reached and have been reached on Manhattanville and we have to know … whether the community can trust what they’re being told by Columbia or not.”