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Volume 77, Number 3 | June 20 - 26, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Lori Pavese Mazor, N.Y.U. associate vice president for planning and design, left, and William Haas, N.Y.U. director of planning, presenting their data and projections on N.Y.U. growth earlier this month.

N.Y.U. growth is on the charts: More students, more buildings

By Lincoln Anderson

New York University is projecting its academic and residential space will grow by 6 million square feet — or by a third the size of its existing facilities — in the next 25 years. Just where this expansion will occur — in N.Y.U.’s so-called central Village campus core or elsewhere — is unknown, the university says.

Additionally, by 2031 — N.Y.U.’s 200th anniversary — the university anticipates adding 5,500 more undergraduate and graduate students, a 13 percent increase. N.Y.U. contends, the 0.5 percent annual student growth, however, will be imperceptible around Washington Square, since it will be offset by an increase in undergrads, at least 3,000 per year, studying abroad.

These are some of the findings of — and issues raised by — a comprehensive study of the university by its new in-house planning team.
Earlier this month, the planners — joined by N.Y.U. community relations officials — presented their findings to The Villager’s editorial staff at a one-hour meeting, interspersed with frequent questions from The Villager.

The in-house planning group is led by Lori Pavese Mazor, N.Y.U. associate vice president for planning and design. They, in turn, are working closely with a consulting team headed by top planning firm SMWM, retained by N.Y.U. in May to spearhead the university’s new long-range strategic planning initiative. Mazor’s team is meeting with SMWM weekly, guiding the process. SMWM is expected to present a long-range N.Y.U. growth plan by December.

Mazor replaced Sharon Greenberger, who, after a brief stint as the university’s first director of campus planning, left last year to head the city’s School Construction Authority.

Mazor’s new, five-member team is a youthful, talented group in their 20s and 30s. One of the members, William Haas, N.Y.U. director of planning, previously was the Department of City Planning’s project director for the Hudson Yards in the West 30s.

For starters, in what they call a “bottom-up planning effort,” the team spent six months analyzing each of N.Y.U.’s 14 undergraduate and graduate schools. This was no small feat, in that the university has a total of more than 50,000 students, 3,000 faculty and 14.5 million square feet of space.

An overriding desire of N.Y.U.’s is to house more of its students closer to its campus core. Two leased N.Y.U. residences in the Financial District currently house a total of 1,500 undergraduates; the university’s lease for its Water St. residence expires in 2009, though the lease for its Cliff St. residence has been extended nine months. Meanwhile, a new 26-story dorm being built for N.Y.U. on E. 12th St. will house just 600 to 800 students. Thus, as many as another 900 beds eventually are going to be needed.

Asked if this bed shortage will mean another 26-story dorm being built in the Village, Mazor said probably not. She said since one mega-dorm proved to be such a lighting rod for the community, two medium-sized ones probably is a better idea.

“Most likely [it will be] two [dorms],” she said, “because of the critical mass that makes sense for the neighborhood. I think we’ve all learned the lesson of 12th St.,” she said, “that it was a particularly challenging project to this neighborhood. I think we were all disappointed we weren’t able to deliver on the height of the building — that it was too big.”

Asked why, since they felt so bad about it, the university couldn’t didn’t make the E. 12th St. dorm smaller, Mazor said, “We had already committed to a developer on this project and it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the height down.

“For N.Y.U., the need is to have as many students as possible in one site. But we need to balance that with what’s appropriate and contextual for the neighborhood,” she explained. N.Y.U. dorms usually house 400 to 500 students, she said.

No sites have been identified yet for these likely “two dorms,” according to Mazor.

Prefer to convert

Not having to construct new buildings would be a plus, she added.

“Ideally, we’d love to find a building that could be converted,” she said.

Asked if the St. Vincent’s Hospital buildings east of Seventh Ave. S. might work — since they’re slated to be sold under the hospital’s rebuilding project — Mazor said they’re not hearing from St. Vincent’s of that being a real possibility. Indeed, demolition of the hospital buildings is more likely, according to a memorandum of understanding between St. Vincent’s and Rudin Management Company, its development partner.

“At this time, it’s not on the radar screen,” Mazor said of a potential adaptive reuse of the St. Vincent’s properties — though, she quickly added, “I think it’s a great idea.”

In an unusual situation for a university, N.Y.U. has about equal amounts faculty and student housing, Mazor noted. Having plentiful faculty housing helps attract “the best and the brightest” professors. The university operates its faculty housing at a financial loss.

Mazor said, “The majority of our space need is really student housing.”

While N.Y.U. currently houses 53 percent of its undergraduates, it hopes to house 60 percent by 2031, according to the planning team’s projections. Similarly, N.Y.U. now houses 14 percent of its graduate students and wants to boost this number to 24 percent in 24 years. The amount of faculty N.Y.U. houses would rise from the current 56 percent to at least 70 percent in 2031, according to the projections.

But do N.Y.U. students, in fact, really want to live near the campus core, in a supervised dormitory environment, no less — as opposed to, say, Williamsburg? Mazor said they’re still studying that question.

(As for Williamsburg, a plan by N.Y.U. to purchase athletic field space there a few years ago has failed to materialize, said Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government and community affairs.)

Asked if the planning team is exploring locations for satellite campuses to take N.Y.U. development pressure off the Village, Mazor said interdisciplinary “synergies” students and faculty enjoy from being near campus would be absent in a satellite location.

“Nothing jumps to mind,” she said of ideas for secondary campuses away from the Village.

Similarly, faculty wouldn’t take kindly to being moved out of their below-market-rate Village apartments, she said.

Satellite — in Paris

While establishing a local satellite campus seems to be a low priority, N.Y.U. is forging ahead with plans to create one across the Atlantic. N.Y.U. will team with American University, which already has a 900-student Paris program, for a 1,400-student, four-year campus in the City of Light. Development of two new buildings there is underway. N.Y.U. says it wants to bring “American style” education — with its liberal arts and academic freedoms — to France, and beyond.

“There’s a thirst for American education in the world,” noted John Beckman, the university’s spokesperson.

N.Y.U. plans more of these “branch campuses” abroad. In the fall, N.Y.U. is scheduled to open a three-year, graduate-level, film-production program in Singapore — though this won’t be a full branch campus, in the university’s view.

Hurley and the planners did say N.Y.U. Medical School is interested in Hunter College’s underbuilt Brookdale site on First Ave., near Bellevue Hospital, possibly for a new science building — away from the university’s Village campus core. (This is potentially good news for 505 LaGuardia Pl. residents, who oppose N.Y.U. putting up a science building on its Morton Williams Associated supermarket property, at LaGuardia Pl. and Bleecker St., the university’s prime development site, fearing it would emit toxic fumes.)

Haas added that N.Y.U.’s using the community facility zoning allowance would help the university keep from expanding its physical footprint in the Village. This zoning allowance grants nonprofit institutions, like universities and hospitals, the right to build larger buildings. Yet, Haas noted, it’s clear the community opposes the university using this zoning allowance. (In fact, in an interview with The Villager last month, John Sexton, N.Y.U.’s president stated there could be projects where the university should not use the full community facilities allowance.)

Nevertheless, Mazor maintained that the rate of the university’s growth over the next 25 years will be less than that “over the last eight years” — a major building period that saw N.Y.U. construct 2.3 million square feet of new space, including the Kimmel Center and new Law School building, among others. Still, 6 million square feet of new space, even spread over a quarter century, is hardly insignificant. Rather, if this space all came as new construction in the Village and Downtown area, it would have a dramatic impact.

“I think what we need to make clear,” Mazor stressed, “is that not all of that [new N.Y.U. construction] is going to happen in this neighborhood.” Exactly where the growth would occur, however, Mazor and the N.Y.U. officials said they don’t know yet.

Mazor emphasized that they want to be honest in their dealings with the community.

“This is the first time we’ve ever looked at projections this far ahead,” she said. “We don’t think it’s too high, we don’t think it’s too low.

“We hope that it is a living, growing document” that N.Y.U. will have and work from for 25 years, Mazor said of the long-range strategic plan SMWM will produce. She said SMWM will likely come out with three different scenarios, from which a final plan will be synthesized.

N.Y.U. officials have made two separate presentations on the university’s growth projections to Borough President Scott Stringer’s new N.Y.U. Task Force.

“It’s a very extensive expansion,” said Martin Tessler, a task force member and former chairperson of Community Board 2’s Institutions Committee. “I’m mainly concerned with the dormitory facilities — which seem to be concentrated and expanding in the central Village area. It’s really already a fait accompli. To kids who want to come to New York, they’re touting the Village as a unique area, but they’re killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Tessler said N.Y.U.’s retaining specialists in architecture and planning is “a step in the right direction — but the policy in terms of decision making is still held by its president, John Sexton, and administrators and trustees.”

Competing for space

Architect Leo Blackman, also a task force member and former Union Square Community Coalition board member, feels N.Y.U. students and locals are competing for scarce space, notably in parks, and that the only answer is for N.Y.U. to relocate a sizeable portion of its campus.

“N.Y.U. has de facto taken over Union Square, because it’s built so many dorms around Union Square,” he said. “There’s not an empty bench in Union Square — it’s sort of been absorbed by N.Y.U. They’ve borrowed Washington Square for centuries.

“I think it’s really critical that they provide green space for their students,” he said. “One way would be to relocate a significant chunk of their campus to another neighborhood. They either need to use the tops of their buildings for green space or purchase enough land so that there’s space for their students.

“I think it’s a step forward that they have a planning staff,” Blackman said. “They should have had that decades ago. But they don’t seem to recognize that there are any limits to their growth. There’s only so much you can jam into the low-scale, Bohemian charm of the Village — what’s left of it — and there’s not that much left.”

Another task force member, Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, expressed skepticism that as many students as N.Y.U. contends will indeed take semesters abroad

“What happens if things don’t work out as they’re trying to send more kids abroad?” he asked. “All of those kids will end up back in the Village. They may be projecting a 0.5 percent increase — how do we know we’re not going to get 5 percent?”

Zella Jones, chairperson of the Noho Neighborhood Association, who is also on the task force, was guardedly optimistic.

“I challenge anyone to recall a time when there have been more public discussions with N.Y.U. present and participating, than there have been over the last six months,” Jones said.

That said, Jones added: “A number of items on N.Y.U.’s list of university goals — including the student growth rates and the 6 million square feet of built environment — look pretty alarming. While some subset of this is planned for off campus, including foreign locations, it is my feeling that it will be the task of the whole task force to come up with some negotiated figures for maximum growth in the core campus area, as well as some innovative community-including and community-supporting concepts in the process. Whatever happens, I doubt off-site campuses will be the only answer.”

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