What’s Next for NYU in East Village?

NYU Fourth Tower PlanThis image from NYU’s 2031 expansion plan depicts a proposed tower near Houston and Mercer Streets. It is still unclear how the plan will affect the East Village.

New York University’s so-called “2031 plan” for expansion contains detailed proposals for what it calls its “Core” around Washington Square. What concerns many East Village residents is a larger boundary that the university has drawn around the Core.

University officials call it “the Neighborhood,” and on maps published about the expansion plan it clearly contains the East Village. The Neighborhood figures in the university’s long-term plans, but the specifics remain unknown.

“We can’t live in a world where everything is no, no, no.” That’s New York University spokeswoman Alicia Hurley’s reaction to the welcome she received from the East Village’s Community Board 3.

“We have heard you, and we’re very conscious of your concerns. Our most recent dorm purchase was at 23rd and Third, well outside the Neighborhood.” But in response to discussions with East Village residents she says, “Help us to understand which areas are most sensitive. Are there sites which are under-performing. Are certain types of use acceptable?”

She wonders whether an extension of the Tisch School of the Arts would be welcome in the area. “If you want to just say no, and be afraid, there’s not much I can do. We’re happy for you to coach us.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (which monitors development in the East Village and NoHo as well as Greenwich Village), has simple advice for the university. Look elsewhere. There are viable alternatives, he says, especially in the Financial District, where the university’s presence would be welcome and there would not be a long commute for students.

Kurt Cavanaugh, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition echoes this, insisting that Community Board 1 is “begging” the University to come to their area.

Ms. Hurley argues that over-extending student housing into leased facilities leaves the university vulnerable. Founders Hall, the controversial 12th Street development, came about when a landlord refused to renew a lease at 200 Water Street in the Financial District.

In addition, points out John Beckman, the university’s vice president for public affairs, locations have to make academic sense. “You cannot have students going from class to class across the city in 10 minutes.”

The university’s vision for expanding its downtown footprint turned into a boxing match during the summer with the administrators covering up on the ropes while taking body blows from Community Boards, local activists and residents who have already seen Third Avenue turn into a sort of open-air frat house.

NYU Plan Mercer StreetThis view from the 2031 expansion plan depicts proposed changes along Mercer Street.

The focus of the plan is Greenwich Village, the university’s historic home for almost 100 years. The university’s strategy projects growth of 6 million square feet over the next 25 years, as much as half of which could be achieved, it says, through the development of the Core around Washington Square.

Essentially, the university seeks to expand skyward by constructing “super blocks” — last week it filed plans with the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a 400-foot residential tower and hotel on Bleecker Street.

The tower — which in news accounts has been nicknamed “The Silver Sliver” — would be the tallest construction project in Greenwich Village’s history. The plans for this and the other proposed Core developments require final approval by both the Department of Planning and the City Council.

The East Village has hardly remained untouched by the university’s steady growth in student numbers over the years. There are no fewer than eight halls of residence within the boundaries of the East Village, including the 26-story Founders Hall, which opened on East 12th Street last year.

A ninth dorm, Coral Towers, is only a few steps above East 14th Street, the East Village’s northern boundary.

These halls house over 4,000 students (according to Ms. Hurley, the university regards three of these halls, housing nearly 1,800 students, as located in the Union Square area and not the East Village).

According to Mr. Beckman, the university has been successful in expanding tenured faculty by 20 percent over the last seven years. High quality academic recruitment has caused what was once a good regional school to evolve into a major international center for research.

Students are now recruited globally, too — only an estimated 15 percent of the current population coming from the metro area. The number of students actually housed by the university has tripled over the last decade. The university feels an obligation to offer housing at least to freshmen, many of whom are new to the city and even the country.

NYU Plan Bleecker StreetA view of proposed changes near Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place.

Mr. Beckman notes that university students leave a small footprint. Measured in 2006, only 160 academic square feet were allocated to each student, compared with over 800 at Princeton and Yale. Furthermore, more than half of the planned growth is for academic usage; 1.5 million square feet will be student housing.

Remote sites are expected to meet half the space requirements. These include downtown Brooklyn, in the area of the Polytechnic Institute; the “Health Corridor” east of Second Avenue in the 20s, where the University already has major medical facilities, and a new location which the university is negotiating with the city on Governors Island.

This leaves a requirement for 3 million square feet to be divided between the Core and the Neighborhood, some of which has already been met by the recent purchases of 730 Broadway and the Forbes Building on Fifth Avenue.

Although the Neighborhood extends down to Canal and up to 18th Street, and stretches from First Avenue to Eighth Avenue (and West Street downtown), the East Village has borne the brunt of accommodating the university’s student housing needs in recent years, something that Ms. Hurley acknowledges.

When interviewed, Mr. Beckman and Ms. Hurley confirmed that there were no developments planned in the East Village, but would not make commitments for the future.

If the university is forced to abandon its plans for the Core, however, the alternative will be “as of right” development. “We’re not going to stop growing,” Mr. Beckman says.

Mr. Berman says this places the community in “the position of picking our poison,” warning that if it comes down ultimately to a choice of Greenwich Village “superblocks” or scattered development throughout Greenwich Village and the East Village, activists have been very successful in defending sites through zoning and landmark protections.

Kim Davis is the community editor of The Local East Village.

Tell us how you feel about the university’s expansion plans. Are there any ways that NYU can expand in the East Village without disrupting the neighborhood? What should they be doing to minimize disruption?