Thursday, December 13, 2007

Swap Meet

Yesterday's Columbia hearing down at the City Council didn't reveal much that was new, but a couple of things did stand out. As the NY Post reports this morning, the university blinked when it comes to going after the historic Cotton Club; after implying that it would look to take the club out as part of its expansion. As the paper says, "Swing can always be the thing at Harlem's famed Cotton Club - Columbia University said yesterday it won't seek to raze the club as part of its northward expansion."

What this means to us is that Columbia probably has more ability to be flexible if the exigent circumstances are present. Clearly, it appears that Columbia wasn't willing to get into a spitting contest with an African-American institution. So, if pressed, accommodations can be reached with the all-or-nothing mentalities on the Heights.

Which brings us to the discussion at the hearing over the proposed Sprayregen swap. As the Observer wrote last night: "Nick Sprayregen and Columbia University, who have been staring each other down over the ownership of four properties in West Harlem, are going to talk again tomorrow, Mr. Sprayregen said...“I want to keep my properties where they are,” Mr. Sprayregen told The Observer today outside of a City Council public hearing on the expansion. “Failing that, I would entertain a swap of a few properties across the street so that I can remain in the community. But besides that, unless they want to first take eminent domain off the table or are forced to, I do not want to negotiate my removal.”

All of which did generate an interesting interjection by Council member Jackson at the hearing after we had outlined the swap concept. Jackson stated that he would look forward to using his good offices to in effect act as an honest broker between Sprayregen and Columbia-which suggests to us that the idea has a lot of political resonance, since Jackson has been an apparent supporter of the university, and his staff has not been overly friendly to Nick.

As the Insider reports this morning there are talks scheduled today between Sprayregen and Columbia, and labor's eager to see a deal between the parties: "Nick Sprayregen, the largest property owner in the way of Columbia University’s 17-acre expansion, is again talking with
the school about a trade. He proposes swapping three buildings, including the current home of his Tuck-It-Away Storage, for two parcels of land that the school owns just outside the eastern edge of the site. The Central Labor Council, eager for more construction jobs, is trying to bring
the parties together."

The idea makes a great deal of sense since it would alleviate the potential lengthy eminent domain battle, one that the elected officials would like to avoid, a fight that would slow up the construction job generation that labor's interested in. And it would remove a costly delay that the university can't relish. Of course, at the same time, it would provide the housing that everyone seems to want, even while actual sites to build have yet to be identified by the housing cheer leaders.

And we do believe that if the idea gets political traction, as well as university support, all of the remaining property owners will come on board the swap train. As we told the Insider: "Speaking on behalf of Sprayregen, lobbyist Richard Lipsky says any deal could include the other two holdouts: Anne Whitman, owner of moving company Hudson North American; and the Singh family, who own a gas station on West 129th Street."

The full details of the plan are still being tweaked,as we told Council member Dickens when she queried us at the hearing. Dickens was concerned with the affordability equation, and we told her that the degree of affordability in the potentially 1,000 units, depended on the degree of public sector support as well as the level of cooperation from a university that has already pledged tens of millions for housing-something that Congressman Rangel called appropriately, "a good start." Clearly, however, the endgame has started.