Dear N.Y.U., Stop Building in the Village—Sincerely, Some Village Residents
Roland Li June 18, 2010, 5:01 p.m.
It looks as if N.Y.U. can do nothing right, as far as residents of Greenwich Village are concerned.
Earlier this week there were rumors that the school was considering taking space in the World Trade Center in the Financial District. But a few hours later, N.Y.U. revealed that it couldn’t afford to build Tower 5 in the complex, much to the chagrin of residents of Greenwich Village and downtown Manhattan alike, and the idea was scrapped for now.
Although Community Board 1, which represents the south end of Manhattan, loves the idea of N.Y.U. coming to the neighborhood and is seeking additional sites, there’s no expectation that the school would move downtown. (It is worth noting that N.Y.U. used to have two leases for dorms at Cliff Street and Water Street, but it allowed them to expire in 2008 and 2009, respectively.)
If past clashes between N.Y.U. and locals are any indication, this is about the time things get nasty.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who has repeatedly said the school should consider moving downtown, sent a letter Friday to N.Y.U. vice president Lynne Brown. The letter is co-signed by 13 representatives of local community groups.
It appears the letter was written before the school rejected the World Trade Center plan, but nonetheless, there was plenty of outrage, most of it directed at the school’s plans to build in Greenwich Village.
“[To] build facilities N.Y.U. is considering would require unprecedented landmarks approval, lifting of long-standing neighborhood zoning protections, transfer of public land to N.Y.U., removal of deed restrictions on formerly publicly owned land, the removal of open-space preservation requirements, and the allowance of commercial development on what is now an area zoned for residential use,” the letter reads. “[We] are therefore unequivocally opposed … and intend to vigorously oppose the various public approvals needed for such plans to move ahead.”
Whew! While such opposition is unsurprising from a community that challenges virtually any development in the Village, N.Y.U.’s plans inarguably call for major, significant zoning approvals. And while the Washington Square Park campus is the heart of N.Y.U., the school would have a much easier time building in the Financial District.
The contrast between Greenwich Village and Financial District residents is revealing of the nature of the two neighborhoods. The Village is a low-rise area that is saturated with buildings, and almost any development requires the demolition of existing buildings. Very tall buildings, such as N.Y.U.’s dorm on 110 East 12th Street, a 26-story tower behind the facade of St. Anne’s church, are deemed out of place in the area. (This building is still a sour point for many preservationists.)
Downtown, the cavernous buildings of Wall Street firms mean that N.Y.U. can have as much space as it wants, argue Village residents, and the community would welcome its presence. The Financial District is still transforming from a commercial neighborhood to a mixed-use one, and the presence of N.Y.U. would undoubtedly bolster its profile for prospective residents.
N.Y.U. was reported to have said that it didn’t have financing to build a 1.3 million–square–foot tower at the World Trade Center site. But John Beckman, a spokesman for the school, told The Observer in April that the school was going to run a major fund-raising campaign to raise money for all its construction. It’s feasible that the school could find another site that it could afford.
So while the plan to move N.Y.U. downtown is just an idea, there’s plenty of people who would like to see it happen.