Edifice Wrecked

Villagers file lawsuits against NYU over new student center

The Village Reform Democratic Club and the Village Independent Democrats are also plaintiffs. Raymond Cline, president of the VRDC, says, "Our membership is fearful that NYU has become something of a Fortune 500 company in its own way, and is taking over step by step."

Their fear is not ungrounded. NYU Law School recently bought the deteriorating Judson House (which it plans to demolish) and the empty lot alongside it at West 3rd Street, both owned since the 19th century by the landmarked Judson Memorial Church. NYU Law School also owns the house next door at 85 West 3rd Street, where Edgar Allan Poe briefly lived. Together these plots make for a prize lot. Call NYU voracious or shrewd, but it nabbed this land at a bargain-basement price—$3.6 million. (It cost twice that just to demolish the Loeb Center.)

Why did the church sell? According to Peter Laarman, senior minister of Judson Memorial Church, the 175-member congregation needs money to continue its ministry. After looking into numerous options, and then negotiating for three and a half years with NYU Law School, it agreed to sell, provided that NYU respects the integrity of the cityscape, doesn't block the rose window at the back of the church, and provides community space for the church. The church has been promised input into the new building's design, which will have classrooms and faculty housing. "I told the dean [John Sexton] to look at the book on Kimmel," says Laarman. "That process has been a disgrace, and I don't think that building belongs on the park. It takes time to reconcile a building that is both functional and graceful."

Aubrey Lees and David Reck of the Committee to Save Washington Square
photo: Michael Sofronski
Aubrey Lees and David Reck of the Committee to Save Washington Square

According to Laarman, NYU Law School can build quite a hunky building on the lots it has just bought, so the questions of size and environmental and aesthetic impact have already come up. The Judson conversation might progress more positively than the Kimmel one, because it began early, and because the sale contractually calls for discussion. Meanwhile, the Kimmel lawsuit goes forth, a lightning rod, hope NYU's critics, that may galvanize the community into advocacy and dispel the fear that NYU is too big to box.

A public forum to discuss the lawsuit and plans for future actions will be held on Monday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South. NYU representatives will attend.

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