Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Two hundred turn out to try to head off N.Y.U. growth

By Albert Amateau

About 200 Village residents gathered last week vowing to fight New York University’s master plan to add about 3 million square feet of new space in Greenwich Village, the East Village, Noho and Union Square over the next 22 years.

Sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and the Greenwich Village Block Associations — a coalition of 34 neighborhood groups — the June 22 meeting reviewed the N.Y.U. Plans 2031 initiative made public last year. N.Y.U. Plans 2031 calls for adding a total of 6 million square feet of new space, about half that amount planned for the core area centered around Washington Square Park.

“The plan which will be finalized over the next several months has the potential for an enormous impact on our own neighborhood,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director.

Billed as “an open forum,” the meeting at Judson Memorial Church did not include a presentation by the university, although Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement, was among the audience. In a letter distributed at the meeting, Hurley said the university had been asked, after the meeting was publicized, to participate only in the public question-and-answer period of the program.

“However, having not seen any of the materials in advance, we are not in a position to respond to any part of the [June 22] presentation,” the Hurley letter said.

Nevertheless, she noted that the recommendations that the university’s outside design team made last year about expanding academic hubs beyond the core area and maximizing sites the university owns within the core area are being analyzed.

“We are aiming to release the comprehensive plan for the university’s growth in the late fall, which will be followed and preceded by another round of outreach and engagement with stakeholders and our neighbors,” Hurley said.

Berman presented an extensive list of recent N.Y.U. projects in the Village area, including one that he characterized as a “tragic mistake” — the Kimmel Center on Washington Square South.

Berman told the forum that the university’s plan to add between 2.8 million and 3.6 million square feet of space in the core area during the next two decades would nearly double N.Y.U.’s rate of growth in the neighborhood compared to the previous 44 years. Adding 3.6 million square feet to the campus core would be the equivalent of adding a total of 20 of the university’s recently completed 26-story dormitory on E. 12th St. at Fourth Ave., Berman said.

The dorm, the tallest building in the East Village, incorporates the facade and tower of St. Ann’s Church, which was demolished to make way for the new building. The dorm encloses 175,000 square feet to accommodate 700 students and was opened last week.

The “tragic mistake,” in Berman’s words, the Kimmel Center for University Life, was completed in 2003 at Washington Square South and LaGuardia Place and rises 10 stories, encompassing 210,500 square feet. Villagers at the forum were also resentful of the 425,400-square-foot Bobst Library, also on Washington Square South, designed by Philip Johnson and completed in 1973.

“Holding N.Y.U. to an agreement is a full-time job,” said Berman. He accused the university of disregarding the N.Y.U. planning principles reached in January 2008 with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and a task force of community representatives. The principles emphasize reuse of existing buildings before new development to protect historic resources, and pursuing opportunities to decentralize and develop in other locations.

Berman cited the demolition of the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments at 133-139 MacDougal St. to make way for an administrative building for N.Y.U. Law School. He ridiculed the university’s plan to incorporate the historic old theater and theater entrance in the new building as “taking a piece of an old building and sewing it onto a new building.” Berman said N.Y.U. has called the Provincetown Playhouse project a renovation rather than a demolition; but he noted that 94 percent of the building has been demolished.

He also remarked that the Furman Hall addition to the law school, completed in 2004 on W. Third St., includes the facade of a Judson Memorial Church building known as the Poe House because Edgar Allan Poe occupied it for a time in the 19th century.

The proposed N.Y.U. Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, to be built on Washington Square South at Thompson St., is another violation of the planning principles, according to Berman. The building will replace the former N.Y.U. Catholic Center, which was recently demolished.

“There was no discussion with the community on the Center for Academic and Spiritual Life,” Berman said, noting that the planning principles commit N.Y.U. to solicit and implement community input.

Neighbors at the forum cheered when Berman announced that any redevelopment of the two N.Y.U. superblocks between LaGuardia Place and Mercer St. from W. Third to W. Houston Sts. would be subject to the city’s uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP.

N.Y.U. at one point had considered demolishing Washington Square Village on the northern superblock but has dropped the idea. Nevertheless, the 2031 plan might still include redevelopment of the open space in the middle of Washington Square Village.

An earlier proposal to add a 40-story tower to the three I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers on the south superblock would also incur review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because the complex was recently designated a city landmark.

Berman noted that N.Y.U. has acquired Polytechnic Institute in Downtown Brooklyn and is developing academic centers in Washington, D.C., Paris and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“If they can develop facilities in Dubai, why not in the Financial District?” Berman asked, suggesting that much of the proposed 3 million square feet of core-area building could go elsewhere. Governors Island, Long Island City and the N.Y.U. Medical Center complex on First Ave. in the East 30s were also mentioned as potential locations.

Residents at the forum signed copies of a petition calling on Mayor Bloomberg, all local elected officials, N.Y.U. President John Sexton and members of the task force on N.Y.U. development to reject proposals for 3 million square feet in Greenwich Village and the East Village and urged supporting alternatives.

“We’re not going to make N.Y.U. go away. That’s not our goal,” Berman said. “It is a vital part of our neighborhood and we want it to stay a respectful part of the neighborhood. It’s absolutely vital for N.Y.U. to look outside of the neighborhood if it must expand.”

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