The state’s main development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, kicked off the public process for eminent domain for Columbia University’s 17-acre West Harlem expansion today, starting a final chapter in the approvals for the contentious $7 billion initiative.
In announcing the process, ESDC President Avi Schick unveiled two unexpected nuggets of news surrounding the plan: yet another concession package from Columbia and a second blight study.
The concessions, which come on top of two multi-million dollar concession packages negotiated last year with Borough President Scott Stringer and then with the other local elected officials and members of the community, included $20 million for community development initiatives, $1 million for CUNY, a mobile dental center, and undergraduate scholarships.
Mr. Schick told reporters the rationale behind the new agreement with Columbia was to better integrate the campus with the surrounding area, saying, "We really wanted to make sure this was one neighborhood, one community."
With respect to the second blight study, the ESDC lost an appellate court ruling earlier this week that was critical of the state’s choice of contractor for the blight study. The contractor, AKRF, also was retained to do an environmental study for Columbia for a rezoning of the area, and the court saw a conflict.
Surprise! The ESDC tells us today that it did a second blight study, by contractor Earth Tech Inc..
So everything’s copacetic, right?
State Senator Bill Perkins, the main elected official critical of the expansion, was not too pleased that he wasn’t informed about the second study (he told the Sun today that the state should do a second study).
In his comments at the board meeting, he had a rather contentious back and forth with Mr. Schick, seemingly trying to push his buttons (at least in private, many in government say Mr. Schick has something of a short fuse), though the ESDC president kept his cool.
A sampling of the exchange:
Mr. Perkins: "Why was I not told that such a study was in the works?"
"Senator, I don’t know, there are numerous—"
Mr. Perkins: "Do we have staff here that can go get the information that I am requesting so that before I leave I can know for sure what I’m talking about?"
"Senator before you leave today, we will endeavor to get the answer—
"Endeavor? That sounds like it’s something that’s difficult to do. It is either yes you will get it, or no you won’t."
"Senator—Senator, with all respect, in the dozen meetings and conversations you and I have had—"
"With all respect? You’re now starting to pay respect?"
Mr. Schick: "No, I paid respect—
Mr. Perkins: "You did not, because otherwise you would have respected me to get that information to me before today."
And on it went.