Columbia University Clears Hurdle For Huge West Harlem Expansion

Bill Perkins

July 17, 2008


A state board voted Thursday to approve Columbia University's $6 billion expansion into West Harlem, paving the way for the property to be seized.

The Empire State Development Corp. released a study finding that the Manhattanville neighborhood where Columbia wants to expand is blighted, which could allow the state to use its controversial eminent-domain power to take property from two business owners who have refused to sell.

"Columbia's expansion will bring thousands of new jobs to the city and revitalize an area that has been plagued by underinvestment," said ESDC Downstate President Avi Schick.

Opponents contested the findings. "Manhattanville is simply not blighted," said attorney Norman Siegel, citing rising real estate values.

"What Columbia is trying to do is wrong, dead wrong," said Nick Sprayregen, owner of a Manhattanville storage company. "I'm angry that I have to wake up each day fighting on behalf of my family to keep what is lawfully ours." He vowed to challenge eminent domain in court.

While many elected officials praised the project, state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) sparred with board members over the study. "This was a cooked process," he said.

The university has committed $21 million in community services as it pushes to get its $7 billion expansion plan passed.

The board will take a final vote on the plan after public hearings in the fall.