Michael Stoler — College dorms a bright spot for builders

<span style="font-style: italic;">Demand for housing at an all-time high, as students stay in school</span>

As the unemployment rate soars —- the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the May unemployment rate at 9.4 percent — enrollment in colleges and universities is booming, as students are finding it makes sense to stay in school. The resulting upswing in the need for student housing has only fed the boom in the construction of new dormitories and residence halls around New York City.

In fact, this fall, as hundreds of thousands of collegians from around the world descend on New York City, a number of new dorms will be in various stages of development.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university. It comprises 23 institutions, including 11 senior colleges and six community colleges. CUNY serves more than 243,000 degree-credit students and 240,000 adult, continuing and professional education students.

Next month, Queens College, one of CUNY’s largest schools, will welcome students to its first residence hall, the Summit. Construction for the Summit commenced in April of last year, when Queens College announced an agreement with developer Capstone Development Corp. to build and manage the dormitory on its Flushing campus. The 155,738-square-foot building is located at 65-30 Kissena Boulevard and has a total of 144 units, which will accommodate 506 students. Rents will vary depending on the unit type; the price per semester will range from $4,250 for accommodations in a shared bedroom to $7,000 for a single bedroom.

The College of Staten Island, one of the senior colleges of CUNY, planned to open the first phase of an inaugural dormitory, but found itself a victim of the global financial crisis. Groundbreaking was planned for October of last year for two four-story buildings and one five-story building with a total of 600 bedrooms. American Campus Communities had agreed to be the developer and to construct and manage the dormitory facilities. As reported in the Staten Island Advance, groundbreaking is on hold indefinitely because no bank would finance the project as of December 2008.

The vice president for external affairs at the College of Staten Island, Bob Huber, said, “We are in the queue to go forward, and all of a sudden the credit crunch hit. Trying to get a loan for anything in this environment, all the banks basically got religion at the same time.”

Issues including shortages of available construction and financing, sparse development space, and a lack of approval from local residents and community boards to allow dormitories to be built in their neighborhoods have long plagued universities and colleges.

But, credit crunch aside, it is generally easier for universities, especially larger ones, to obtain funding for dorms.

Meanwhile, Community Board 2 in Long Island City approved plans for CUNY to build a mixed-use development at Fifth Street and 47th Avenue in the Queens West section. The 12-story building, when completed, would have a total of 400 residential units, half of which would be market-rate rentals, and the other half divided between 188 graduate units and 12 faculty housing units at street level. The development will also have 6,000 community-use units to be occupied by the Queens Council on the Arts.

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Back on Staten Island, construction is under way at Wagner College. The private school, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, will erect its first new dormitory in 40 years. The $24 million, 200-bed residence hall will be devoted to seniors and constructed on the college’s former Campus Road baseball field.

Two recently completed dormitories have been welcoming students during the past year. Last July, Columbia University paid $67.6 million for the Arbor, a nine-story condominium tower at 3260 Henry Hudson Parkway. The Arbor is a 127-unit condominium complex developed by L & M Development Partners and a New York City real estate investment fund. In September, graduate students from Columbia moved into the residence. The university is running a shuttle business between the buildings to the local subway station, and also carries passengers to the Medical Center Campus in Washington Heights.

And earlier this year, the School of Visual Arts’ trendy Lower East Side Ludlow Residence opened at 101 Ludlow Street at the corner of Delancey Street at the former site of a Duane Reade. The new 20-story, 80,000-square-foot, 353-bed dormitory, a development of Charles Blaichman, entered into a 20-year lease with a renewal option for 20 years and an option to purchase at the end of the lease.

Philanthropy is fueling the expansion of several projects at Fordham University, including dormitories at the Rose Hall campus in the Bronx. In October, Thomas P. Salice and Susan Conley Salice, graduates of Fordham in 1982, donated $7 million to be used for a new residence hall. Salice and Conley Halls — two towers joined at the base, which will house 460 students — will encompass 76,000 square feet and are expected to open their doors in June 2010.

Also at Fordham, construction is expected to be completed next year for Campbell Hall, a 90,000-square-foot residence hall. The building will be the namesake of Robert E. Campbell, a 1955 graduate of Fordham, and his wife, Joan Campbell. The Campbells’ gift of $10 million to Fordham is among the largest in the university’s history.

In the fall, students will move into St. John’s University’s off-campus residence located at 172-14 Henley Road in the Jamaica Heights neighborhood of Queens. The new seven-story building will have a total of 500 beds. The University plans to use a shuttle bus to bring students back and forth to the main campus.

Although the credit crisis has taken a toll on education centers, the demand for student and faculty housing is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. Administrators at the City University have been meeting with developers, attempting to secure sites for dormitories, and many public and private institutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are shopping for sites and joint-venture partners to build new housing.

As long as the need is high, expect to see more dorms rising.

Michael Stoler is a columnist for The Real Deal and host of real
estate programs “The Stoler Report” and “Building New York” on CUNY TV
and on WEGTV in East Hampton. His radio show, “The Michael Stoler Real
Estate Report,” airs on 1010 WINS on Saturdays and Sundays. Stoler is a
director at Madison Realty Capital as well as an adjunct professor at
NYU Real Estate Institute, and a former contributing editor and
columnist for the New York Sun.