Ratner-Style Deal with Columbia University?

columbiarender Ratner Style Deal with Columbia University?Manhattanville residents are gearing up to make an agreement with Columbia University to get jobs and other benefits into the Ivy League school’s planned expansion project.

But activists told The Real Estate they’re not looking east to Brooklyn–where developer Bruce Ratner wants to build a massive mixed-use complex built around a stadium for the Nets–for their example.

Forest City Ratner Cos. made a deal with a coalition of local groups (including a local chapter of the national group, ACORN) to include affordable housing and job benefits for the neighborhood in their plan. But, said Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of Community Board 9, only eight organizations were a part of it.

“We are avoiding the Brooklyn model,” he said. “We are wanting to do something else. We are wanting to develop a wide coalition of organizations and people that will be properly represented, perhaps through a local development corporation, but it’s not going to be ACORN negotiating for the community or any similar type of thing.”

Reyes-Montblanc said that negotiations on the “community benefits agreement”–which is the term for these contracts in which a developer promises a certain number of jobs to local residents or affordable apartments or both–will start once the environmental impact statement is complete.

Columbia University’s press office issued a statement saying the university is “willing to discuss long term benefits that are aligned with the university’s mission as an educational institution. Whether or not that results in some sort of formal binding agreement is still undecided.”

The fact that only eight groups signed the Brooklyn agreement of course opened it up to easy criticism from opponents who claimed it didn’t represent the community.

By the way, the coalition that signed the Brooklyn agreement sent out a press release Aug. 4–a group of South African officials had stopped by to take a look–and at the time the coalition claimed that “more than 200 organizations have affirmed” the agreement since its signing in June—meaning they supported the idea even if they were not involved in negotiating the agreement or will be a part of enforcing it. The Real Estate asked for the list and counted fewer than 175; and that’s only if “organizations” include elected officials, restaurants and real-estate agencies, as well as block associations and the like. But we were nonetheless surprised it had traveled so far, so fast. Why, there are groups from as far away as Queens and Manhattan on this list! (Are they part of the “community” in downtown Brooklyn?)

- Matthew Schuerman