Volume 75, Number 44 | March 22 -28 2006

Villager photos by Gary He

New York University says it is not interested in purchasing part of the property of the Catholic Center at N.Y.U., at right, which plans to demolish the site and downsize its facility. To the left is N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center.

N.Y.U. may be looking to add to Third Ave. dormitory row

By Lincoln Anderson

With the recent news that the Catholic Center at New York University will be demolished and replaced by a smaller chapel built on only a portion of the property, the immediate speculation in the community was that New York University undoubtedly must be planning to buy the remaining property to develop a new building. However, N.Y.U. last week quashed these rumors, with a university spokesperson saying — as unlikely as it may seem — that N.Y.U. has no interest in acquiring this site in the heart of its Washington Square campus.

Another development scenario has emerged, however, that appears more credible — and which N.Y.U. has not denied. Namely, the university is said to be intensely negotiating to try to purchase a vacant property at Third Ave. and 10th St. that was formerly home to the Bendiner & Schlesinger blood labs. A year ago, The Villager reported that the property’s owner planned to demolish the labs and put up a new six-story rental apartment building with commercial street-level businesses.

Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, said she recently called Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. director of government and community affairs, about the Third Ave. site and that Hurley confirmed N.Y.U. definitely wants it. The site is sandwiched in the middle of N.Y.U.’s Third Ave. “dormitory row,” with Alumni Hall, which houses 500 students, on the block to the south, and the Third Avenue North dorm, which houses 950 students, on the block to the north. Two and a half blocks away, a planned 26-story, 700-student dormitory is being built for N.Y.U. on E. 12th St. at the location of the former St. Ann’s Church.

“They have been talking to the person who owns the site for awhile, but nothing is settled,” Stetzer said of the Third Ave. property. Stetzer said she called Hurley because she’d gotten phone calls from neighboring residents and businesses, as well as Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, saying they’d heard rumors N.Y.U. was pushing to get the property.

N.Y.U. is reportedly very interested in this property on Third Ave. and 10th St., which is located between two of the university’s dormitories that were built in the mid to late 1980s. N.Y.U.’s 500-student Alumni Hall dorm is visible in the background at right.

Asked whether Hurley said the university envisioned a residence hall at the site, Stetzer said, “She didn’t say and I didn’t ask.”

For her part, N.Y.U.’s Hurley neither confirmed nor denied that the university is interested in the Third Ave. property.

“At any given time a number of developers approach us on potential sites and opportunities,” Hurley told The Villager. “As any of these conversations materialize, we will of course notify the community at the appropriate time.”

As for the property that will be available when the N.Y.U. Catholic Center is rebuilt to a smaller size, John Beckman, a university spokesperson, said N.Y.U. doesn’t want it.

“With regard to the Catholic Center, the property belongs to the archdiocese, not N.Y.U., so you’d really have to speak with them. From N.Y.U.’s perspective, we have no interest in or plans for buying the site,” Beckman said.

“N.Y.U. makes real estate decisions that work for it,” he added. “We should move away from the myth that N.Y.U. is going to go after any piece of property near its campus. It’s simply not true.” Beckman said the university is constantly involved in real estate negotiations, but “the vast majority of these conversations go nowhere. When there are conversations that do go somewhere — that come to agreement — we let the community know promptly. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that any conversation at any stage of development or level of seriousness needs to be [publicly] disclosed,” Beckman said.

Berman of G.V.S.H.P. and members of the St. Ann’s Committee — the ad-hoc residents group formed in response to the university’s 26-story dorm project on E. 12th St. — were incensed that N.Y.U. isn’t being open about its designs on the old Bendiner & Schlesinger site. They note that university president John Sexton has at town hall meetings made a point of saying the university will be more open about its development projects, and that N.Y.U. has touted its hiring of a campus-planning director, Sharon Greenberger, as part of its new approach.

At the end of last year, Greenberger and top N.Y.U. administrators told The Villager that early this year Greenberger would start working on a long-term strategic planning process for the university. To date, the university has not made public any details of a long-range planning process.

Last month, Hurley said the university wasn’t ready to comment on a community-led proposal for N.Y.U. to locate a secondary campus outside of the Village, saying that the revamped campus-planning and real estate office was still filling staff openings.

“I think it is entirely disingenuous for N.Y.U. to say — as they have for the last several months — ‘Just sit tight and wait. We can’t talk about our development plans yet until we have our team up to speed and ready to go,’ when at the same time they are putting together development plans,” said Berman. “Apparently they are full-speed ahead on trying to acquire new development sites, but everything is on hold when it comes to their long-promised dialogue with the community about planning.”

Elizabeth Langwith, a leader of the St. Ann’s Committee, said, “They basically said, ‘We want to reach out to you. This is a new era, and as soon as we get staffed up we’ll tell you about the plan.’ Sharon Greenberger was hired 12 months ago — they have yet to staff up and share a plan. They make a lot of noise about community, but their actions are the total opposite — so the new John Sexton era doesn’t exist. This is typical of N.Y.U.

“Part of the [N.Y.U.] defense of the St. Ann’s dorm was, ‘This fell into our lap,’ ” Langwith noted. N.Y.U. has said that Hudson Companies, the developer of the building on the St. Ann’s site, approached them. However, the relationship seems to be the opposite in the case of the Bendiner & Schlesinger site, with N.Y.U. actively pursuing the property.

Regarding the N.Y.U. Catholic Center, Joseph Zwilling, a spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese, said nothing had been decided. The Washington Square News, N.Y.U.’s student newspaper, on March 9 first reported that the facility will be torn down at the end of the summer and a smaller church building constructed on a portion of the property.

“There’s lots of things being considered” for the property, Zwilling told The Villager. He indicated that ideas are being mulled for the site, but he said, “I’m not going to narrow it down to one.”

Father John McGuire, the Catholic Center’s pastor, said the building is too costly to operate because of outdated electrical, heating and cooling systems and that the roof is in bad shape.

“The building is unrepairable,” he said. “It’s an energy albatross. This was built in the ’60s when energy was cheap. We have very serious roof problems, which would be about $1 million to fix.”

McGuire said plans are to demolish the 300-person chapel and adjacent 35,000-square-foot center building. The new facility will include 15,000 square feet with a 100-person chapel. The Catholic Center recently relocated its N.Y.U. student Sunday Mass — which has about 600 congregants — to St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Ave., since it outgrew the Catholic Center space. But McGuire said the center intends to maintain a presence, albeit a smaller one, on the N.Y.U. campus — where it has been since 1894 — and that the rebuilt chapel will continue to provide a quiet space for prayer.

McGuire said it hasn’t been decided yet whether to sell the property that will be left over once the chapel is rebuilt, but said if there is a sale he presumes it would take place this summer.

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