What You Need To Know About Manhattanville

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Class of 2014: among your many distinctive traits (you got 2400’s on your SATs! You got 2380 on your SATs!) you will also be the first Columbia class to see physical proof of our new campus, just a few blocks uptown in Manhattanville. You’ll hear a lot about Manhattanville in the next few weeks and next four years, since the new uptown branch of our Morningside campus is, after years of back-and-forth and debate, actually going to be built. It’s a truly controversial and confusing topic, but here’s a run-down of the basics, recent news, and what’s to come.

Manhattanville is, basically, a 17-acre site that includes 129th to 133rd Streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue, the north side of 125th Street, and three properties on Broadway from 131st to 134th Streets. It will serve as an extension of Columbia’s campus: including academic (mainly science and Business School) and residential buildings, a secondary school, and new stores.

Your fearless leader, PrezBo, has made expanding Columbia into Manhattanville one of his most prominent initiatives as President. It will, no doubt, come to define his legacy.

Many Columbians and local residents have been resisting the Manhattanville expansion for years. Columbia’s main community opponent was Community Board 9, whose 197a rezoning proposal was defeated by Columbia’s own 197c rezoning. Their main concerns centered around the Manhattanville residents living in 135 apartments in the area that would have to be relocated for the project to go through. The University has been quick to point out that development in Manhattanville will create thousands of new jobs, and that all displaced residents would be housed in equal or better housing.

Columbia responded that the Manhattanville area was “blighted”– the lack of stores and residents in the 17-acre area proved that the neighborhood was struggling. Eminent domain, the process by which government can seize private property, was brought to the bargaining table. If Columbia could convincingly argue that the neighborhood was blighted, they could use eminent domain to appropriate private property (i.e the buildings and apartments in Manhattanville) and begin expansion. Nicholas Sprayregen and the Singh family were the last two property owners resisting expansion. A good profile of Sprayregen, one of the drama’s most important characters, can be found here.

After years of protests, much debate, some big names, a few court cases, and a hunger strike (!!!!!!), this was exactly what happened. In December, the Appellate Division of the NY State Supreme Court ruled that Columbia could not use eminent domain to expand in Manhattanville, and the project’s future was suddenly dark. This June, however, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain for Columbia, and expansion in Manhattanville was officially approved.

Construction began this summer. You’ll see plenty of it in the next four years, and soon enough (maybe by the time you come back for your 10th college reunion) there will be a new campus. Stay tuned to Bwog to read more about the future of Manhattanville as it unfolds.

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  1. Eacapee

    Another profile of Sprayregen:

    One of the major issues in the redevelopment has nothing to do with the tenants of properties Columbia has bought or wants to buy. Some of the most vocal opposition has come from community members who worry about secondary displacement, i.e., as Columbia develops the new campus, property values will rise, and they won't be able to afford the inevitably rising rents.

    As for the property hold-outs, these two are an interesting case. Sprayregen's a multimillionaire at this point. He's a shrewd businessman, that's why he doesn't want to sell his property, he wants to swap it for property Columbia has earmarked for the expansion across Broadway from the main block, so that he can develop them himself once their value rises. The Singhs on the other hand have a different issue. They own a gas station on Manhattan Island on a busy stretch of 125th Street that's basically an on-off ramp to the west side highway. That's a sweet spot.

    I wonder what Columbia is offering them, since they've successfully bought out everyone else and appear to be pretty flexible. One of the other storage companies who'd taken an "over our dead body" approach got property close to the medical center instead, and Columbia built them a new building on that lot. Not an awful deal.

  2. The Sketchiest Part

    By the time Columbia formally pushed for the use of eminent domain, it had already owned 50% of the desired land. It got the state to declare that their *own land* was "blighted"!

  3. people who are interested

    in the manhattanville thing should probably go to the daily spectator. they do the best reporting for that kind of stuff

  4. Inigo Montoya

    "the lack of stores and residents in the 17-acre area proved that the neighborhood was fledging"

    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    • Eliza  (Bwog Staff)

      You are so right! I kept forgetting to change that all day! And here we are. Corrected.

    • ...  

      fledgling seems like the term that was intended. and given a certain worldview, it kinda makes sense...

      i think the most important point to remember here is that captain bollinger no longer has any wiggle room with respect to the challenge of pushing things through bureaucracy. specifically, if you see him in a fireside chat and ask him about x, and he goes on to relay that implementing x is hard... it's important to reply with "fuck you, you fucking asshole. you managed to manipulate one of the most bureaucratic and stodgy organizations on the planet (that would be the new york state government) into using motherfucking eminent domain to turn property over to a private entity. now you claim you can't even get things done in your own backyard as chief executive? don't give me that bullshit you slick son of a bitch."

      verbatim preferred.

    • Anonymous  


  5. Alum

    "...academic (mainly science and Business School)..."

    And the School of the Arts. And the School of International and Public Affairs. And some engineering labs. And maybe other programs. Plus a new gym/pool, more parking, support services, administrative offices, etc.

    "...the Appellate Division of the NY State Supreme Court ruled that Columbia could not use eminent domain to expand in Manhattanville..."

    No, it ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation (part of the state government) couldn't use eminent domain in order to take land in order to transfer it to Columbia. Only the government can use eminent domain, so there was never an issue about whether Columbia could use it. Columbia wasn't even a party to the case.

    • Escapee

      To be fair, Columbia's dealings with the ESDC may have also been less than kosher. I can't seem to find the link but Spec mad a few embarassing disclosures about the University's manhattanville machinations.

      Also, a new gym/pool? Has that been stated anywhere or is that just an educated assumption based on the glaring need for them?

  6. Alum

    The plans call for a physical fitness center underneath (and perhaps also in the lower floors of ) the two buildings west of the old Studebaker plant. See Older versions of the same image specifically mentioned a pool; the current generic label is consistent with including a pool, but no longer expressly calls for one.

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