Columbia to acquire city Manhattanville parcel

By Adam Pincus | July 24, 2008 03:05PM

Columbia University is poised to acquire a 15,000-square-foot city-owned Metropolitan Transportation Authority parcel on 131st Street in the footprint of its Manhattanville expansion plan.   

The $3 million transfer, worth $200 per square foot, should occur some time in the spring of 2009, city Law Department spokeswoman Laura Postiglione said.

The university will not pay the $3 million in cash, however, but will be credited for work performed at a park called Hudson River Piers that is under development in West Harlem, a source said.

A spokeswoman for the school said it would not comment on the property at 640 West 131st Street. The Parks Department could not be reached for comment.

Columbia is planning a $7 billion northward expansion into Manhattanville, with the backing of the Bloomberg administration. Some community groups and businesses are fighting the plan, which could rely on using eminent domain.

On July 17, the state’s Empire State Development Corporation issued a report that identified the Manhattanville neighborhood as blighted, paving the way for eminent domain to be used.

The MTA operates a maintenance facility in a one-story building on the lot, which passes through to 130th Street.

The parcel will be part of a park planned for the center of the new campus, according to a university plan from 2007. It is one of only two parcels that is not yet controlled by Columbia on a square block bounded by 130th and 131st streets, Broadway and 12th Avenue.

In exchange for the MTA canceling the lease it has held since 1962, Columbia is constructing a building in the Bronx for an MTA maintenance facility on half of a 75,000-square-foot parcel owned by the city, as part of a complicated swap arrangement between the three parties.

Patrick O’Malley, director of sales in Manhattanville for brokerage Massey Knakal Realty Services, estimated that the property, which is zoned for manufacturing, would normally be worth between $250 and $300 per square foot. But he expected the holdout parcels to command prices far higher because of the looming eminent domain use.

Attorney Norman Siegel, who has been a vocal critic of the expansion process, said the parties should provide more transparency on the transactions. He asked, for example, what work was done on the park.

“The more information I get, the more questions that are raised,” he said. “This is not the way to do business. I think more details are needed.”

The school has pledged to invest $21 million in improvements in community services as it seeks approval for its expansion project.