Fox News reported today that Columbia University may try to use eminent domain to acquire the 17 acres from 125th to 133rd Streets in New York City known as Manhattan Ville. The University claims expansion is necessary as it is currently only one-half the size of Harvard and one-third the size of Princeton and Yale. According to Emerging Minds Magazine, Columbia is one of the city’s largest landlords. The acquisition of Manhattan Ville would double the current size of the University’s campus. Columbia plans to build a bio-chemical research center on the property, which would have five stories below ground level, potentially wreaking havoc on the environment.
Columbia has already acquired 85% of the area and is trying to cut a deal for the rest. According to the New York Sun, “The University has hired an outside organization to determine if the area is blighted. Such a determination would likely cause friction in part because the definition of blight is unclear and because the university is funding the study.” The blight study may conceivably help Columbia to exercise the law of eminent domain to acquire the remaining 15% of the area if property owners were to hold-out.
One man clearly holding out is Nicholas Sprayregen. According to the New York Sun, he owns the largest chunk of any private property owner in Manhattan Ville. Most of it is devoted to his family’s self-storage business and he has no interest in selling out, hoping instead to pass his business on to his children.
In addition to Mr. Spraygregen’s refusal, Emerging Minds Magazine reports that Columbia also faces opposition from The Coalition to Preserve Community. It is a new grass roots movement that has led the fight against gentification of West Harlem. It claims Columbia is carrying out gentrification with the support of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It fears that Columbia’s plan will displace homes and small businesses in Manhattan Ville.
Emerging Minds Magazine reported that Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council in New York stated that the 2004 Vera Institute for Justice’s study on family homelessness in New York showed that, among other factors, neighborhoods experiencing gentrification like Central Harlem had higher numbers of families becoming homeless. Central Harlem ranked in the top 10 neighborhoods in the city with a high displacement rate.The New York City social service agency, Coalition for the Homeless, says there are 36,166 people who sleep in the city’s shelters and welfare hotels each night, and 14,884 are children.
According to the Fox News report today, the State of New York is reviewing eminent domain and appears to be onboard. It believes the takeover would be good for the local residents. Columbia would spend $7 billion to create 6,900 jobs. Two-thirds of them, approximately 4,600 jobs, would go to the local community.
Would Columbia’s acquisition of Manhattan Ville be a boon to the West Harlem community or is it gentrification?