Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006

N.Y.U. calls off negotiations for Third Ave. dormitory site

By Lincoln Anderson

Five days after The Villager reported that New York University had been in ongoing negotiations for a vacant lot at E. 10th St. and Third Ave., the Washington Square News, N.Y.U.’s undergraduate newspaper reported that the university had called off negotiations for the property.

According to W.S.N., Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U.’s vice president for government and community affairs, said that N.Y.U. ended talks with the developer of the site before last Wednesday, when The Villager’s article appeared. However, over the course of two weeks during which The Villager was reporting on its March 22 article, neither Hurley nor John Beckman, N.Y.U.’s spokesperson, informed the newspaper that the university had backed out of the negotiations. Hurley also failed to return a phone call from The Villager seeking information about N.Y.U.’s involvement in the Third Ave. site before the article’s deadline.

The site, formerly home to the Bendiner & Schlesinger blood labs, is located on a block between two existing N.Y.U. dormitories and would certainly seem a natural spot for the university to put a new one. The university has publicly stated it wants more dorms closer to its Washington Square campus, as opposed to having to rent buildings in the Financial District and other areas outside the Village for student residences.

Last week The Villager reported that Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, confirmed that she had a conversation with Hurley during which Hurley admitted that N.Y.U. was in negotiations — and had, in fact, been negotiating “for awhile” — for the Third Ave. site. Hurley didn’t tell Stetzer whether N.Y.U. specifically wanted to build a dorm on the property.

Stetzer’s conversation with Hurley came about after Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, contacted Stetzer on March 10 about his frustration trying to get a straight answer from Hurley about whether N.Y.U. wanted the property. Berman said Stetzer called him shortly afterwards informing him she had called Hurley, who told her, yes, N.Y.U. was negotiating for the site.

The W.S.N. article didn’t give a specific date as to when N.Y.U.’s negotiations for the site ended. When The Villager this week asked both Hurley and Beckman when exactly negotiations for the site ceased, neither provided an answer.

Hurley’s general response in The Villager’s March 22 article was: “At any given time a number of developers approach us on potential sites and opportunities. As any of these conversations materialize, we will of course notify the community at the appropriate time.”

Similarly, Beckman’s response in The Villager’s March 22 article was: “When there are [real estate] 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.”

On Monday, The Villager e-mailed a number of questions to Hurley, including asking when the date was that negotiations ended, why they were ended and why The Villager wasn’t told about it.

On Tuesday, Hurley e-mailed back to say she had referred the questions to Beckman. In an e-mail to The Villager, Beckman wrote: “I’m not sure how you would want me to respond to a story that The Villager ran which seemed to use speculation about N.Y.U.’s intentions to the greatest possible degree. Surely any inaccuracies would be an expected risk of that sort of speculative reporting.”

Berman reported that at a meeting the day after The Villager article came out, he and Hurley were among a group gathered at Borough President Scott Stringer’s office to discuss the issue of N.Y.U. expansion in the Village. Others at the meeting included Downtown community leaders and local politicians’ representatives. One of the issues raised was whether N.Y.U. would agree not to acquire additional sites for new projects until they have fully staffed their revamped planning office. Berman said he told Hurley, “The problem is N.Y.U. just keeps growing and growing. You’re developing sites like E. 12th St. [where a 700-student dorm is being built for N.Y.U.] or Third Ave. and we never know when the next one will come.” According to Berman, Hurley responded, “What Third Ave. site?” Berman said he then whipped out his issue of The Villager with its front-page article about the university’s negotiations for the property. She didn’t respond when faced with The Villager article “in black and white,” he said.

Hurley declined to confirm Berman’s account of events.

“If you’re expecting some reaction to Andrew’s interpretation at the recent meeting…I really have to leave the catty reprisals for you two to sort out,” Hurley told The Villager in an e-mail on Tuesday.

Added Beckman in his e-mail to The Villager: “We had previously communicated with him directly about the site, conveying essentially what we said to The Villager. The conversation that you allude to seems to have been engendered NOT by any new information, but by the very speculative story at issue here, to which he was a contributor, as he often seems to be in these instances.”

Berman said that when N.Y.U. denies it’s negotiating for a site, that can be taken at face value. However, he said, when the university neither confirms nor denies rumors that it is seeking to develop vacant property or acquire an existing building, that usually means it is in negotiations for it.

“That certainly has been the pattern in the past,” he said. “So we can’t help but assume when they refuse to deny it that they probably are involved.” Berman said that the assumption is N.Y.U. must have pulled out of the negotiations at some point after neighbors and G.V.S.H.P. started poking around to find out more information about N.Y.U.’s intentions at Third Ave. and 10th St. One might guess that The Villager’s article could have played a role, but, if so, N.Y.U. isn’t admitting it.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez represents the area of Third Ave. and E. 14th St. and Union Square, which N.Y.U.’s president, John Sexton, has recently described as a virtual “second campus” for the university, calling N.Y.U. now a “university of two squares.” Mendez feels N.Y.U. “hasn’t been honest” about its development plans and needs to put its cards on the table.

“There’s a lot of speculation about N.Y.U.,” Mendez said. “I don’t believe they’ve been very honest about what their intentions are in the community. We’re not seeing the comprehensive [long-range campus development] plan. They’re saying they need more dorm space and need to consolidate. So what does that mean for our neighborhood? They’ve hired their planning team to do a comprehensive plan. But they haven’t put it out to the community.”

Elizabeth Langwith, co-chairperson of the St. Ann’s Committee, which formed in response to the 700-student dorm project on E. 12th St. on the site of the former St. Ann’s Church, said it’s good news that N.Y.U. has dropped its plans for the Third Ave. location.

“I’m glad that there isn’t imminent expansion into the East Village without consulting community groups,” she said. “I’m glad that we’re dodging the bullet and that this site isn’t in play. What I would like to see more is that they would say they won’t do anymore negotiation with any other sites in the Village until they’ve produced a plan. What happens historically is they negotiate in secret, they announce a deal and then they try to clean up afterwards. They need to produce the public plan that they’ve been talking about for the last four years.”

Langwith said neighbors started asking N.Y.U. if it was interested in the St. Ann’s site two weeks before N.Y.U. announced its deal for it at the end of last year — which, she said, means N.Y.U. had been in discussions and negotiating for it for months.

While Langwith and neighbors may feel they have dodged a bullet, on Tuesday Berman reported he was able to contact a representative of the Third Ave. property’s owner, the Levine Group, who confirmed to him that N.Y.U. had been negotiating for the site, but had recently dropped out. However, according to Berman, the representative told him that a six-story School of Visual Arts dormitory is now planned on the site. The Villager’s calls to the Levine Group representative were not returned by press time.

Samantha Hoover, an S.V.A. spokesperson, said, “I know nothing about any plans to acquire the site on 10th St. and Third Ave. S.V.A. is always looking for better housing for their students, but I am not aware of any discussions about this particular site. I will certainly let you know if I hear of anything.”

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