Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Columbia Students Oppose Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Construction Project--Part 5


In October 2014, the Columbia Student Coalition Against Gentrification (CAGe) released a report, titled Understanding Columbia University's Expansion into West Harlem: An Activist's Guide, which indicated why many Columbia students, Barnard students and neighborhood residents in Morningside Heights, West Harlem and Manhattanville are apparently still opposed to the Columbia University Administration's Kravis Business School construction/campus expansion project in West Harlem/Manhattanville. As the report notes:
"(September 2006) The ESDC hires Alee King Rosen and Flemming (AKRF), the same company Columbia contracted to coordinate their expansion, to conduct a ‘neighborhood conditions study’ in Manhattanville. AKRF, in turn, subcontracts Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., a structural engineering enterprise, to actually carry out the details of the investigation. The Chairman of the Tomasetti firm is Richard Tomasetti, Adjunct Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Columbia University. In this dizzying web of conflicting interests, the state authority designed to investigate the ethics of eminent domain hires an engineering firm profiting from Columbia’s expansion, which then proceeds to contract the company of a Columbia Professor to write their report. The outcome will deem whether or not Manhattanville is ‘blighted’, or in such economic disrepair that it requires complete overhaul, rather than further development. Without the ESDC’s designation of ‘blight’, eminent domain is not an option for Columbia  
"(March 2007) Business owners operating on the expansion site learn of the potentially corrupt ties between the ESDC, Columbia University, and the consultancy firm AKRF. They form a coalition called the 'West Harlem Business Group' to file a freedom of information petition (FOIL) to the New York Supreme Court. Their hope is to delegitimize claims of economic blight by uncovering conflicts of interest in the correspondence between the ESDC and its clients.  
"(June 2007) The FOIL petition gains access to 117 messages and communiqu├ęs that reveal the underlying complicity of AKRF in Columbia's project. According to New York Supreme Court Justice Kornreich, `while acting for Columbia, AKRF has an interest of its own in the outcome of the respondent's action (i.e., the ESDC's), as AKRF, presumably, seeks to succeed in securing an outcome that its client, Columbia, would favor' )...  
"(August 2007) Community Board 9 holds a public hearing to debate the use of eminent domain and the rezoning of 35-acres in Manhattanville by Columbia University, as stipulated in plan 197-c. Tenants, students, politicians, urban planners, and academics raise concerns of rising tenant displacement, community disenfranchisement, and adverse health effects from the residues of the construction process. Troubled by the influence of the Coalition to Preserve Community, Lee Bollinger founds a pro-expansion lobbying group, dubbed the 'Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville'. The group features former New York City mayor David Dinkins, and is lead by Dinkins' then deputy mayor, Bill Lynch. Lynch receives $40,000 a month from the Columbia administration as compensation for his efforts. During the five-hour meeting, 73 speakers testify against plan 197-c, 22 in favor. President Bollinger is booed as he addresses the audience. Several other members of Harlem’s political establishment campaign in favor of Columbia’s expansion, most notably Charles Rangel. Community Board 9 votes 17-1 against Columbia's proposal."