NYU2031, the Expansion Plan of the Century, is a Mayoral Game
It was a given that NYU's expansion plan would create a commotion -- any proposal cramming 2.4 million square feet, which is about equal to the size the Empire State Building, into a six-block radius will have that effect. The Manhattan Community Board, a collection of citizens from the neighborhoods that make up NYU's core, has already made its opposition to the proposed towers clear ("Flowers Not Towers," for example, is a key slogan). But the decision to construct four high-rises, underground space and an array of "superblocks" below Washington Square Park might be out of their hands.
As the plan begins the long process of approval through the City's bureaucracy, NYU2031, the official name of this real estate behemoth (with its finish date nestled in the title), is slowly transforming into a prospective mayoral issue between two politicians who are expected to butt heads once Bloomberg is out of town: Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President, and Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker.
Until April 12th, the ball is in Stringer's court for this ambitious takeover of Downtown. As Manhattan Borough President, his advisory vote to the City Planning Commission before that deadline could give the go-ahead for the Commission to move the plan into the secondary phases of approval: the City Council, where Quinn will cast her decisive vote as well.
Before examining their political incentives, it is appropriate to run through the expected benefits and downturns of NYU2031 to get a sense of what is at stake for both office-seekers:
It is projected that the expansion plan will single-handily create "18,200 construction jobs, 9,500 new permanent jobs and $6 billion in hard and soft construction spending," according to the Post. Once finished, the City will reap in $25 million in annual tax revenues while Albany receives an additional $20 million. Also, Washington Square Village, the home now for NYU faculty and graduate students and epicenter of the plan's focus, will see the creation of a new public school and more outdoor green spaces.
While no Village residents will be kicked out via eminent domain, most residents argue that the authenticity of the bohemian capital will be tarnished indefinitely. In other words, Bleecker and Mercer streets are not synonymous with high-rise. The University, in the community board's opinion, is overstaying its welcome in a neighborhood it has called home since 1835 -- a perspective where Stringer and Quinn must tread lightly.
Forty-four politicians and members of the community have written an open letter to Stringer, in which it was urged that he votes no on the project. In a half-ass effort to qualm both sides, the Manhattan Borough President has demanded that NYU trims its Village space down to 1.5 million square feet and relocate the remaining 700,000 square feet to another part of the NYU empire -- a proposal that NYU administrators had agreed to in January but now seem to be changing their mind on.
The compromise was a way for Stringer to keep his base intact for the future: the votes from the Village are as crucial to him as the votes of the economic development and real estate community. But the planner is stuck in a prisoner's dilemma, unable to know how Christine Quinn, his main rival, will vote on the plan.
If Stringer votes no and Quinn votes yes on NYU2031, the former could be labeled as anti-business -- a bad criticism for any mayor after the Bloomberg reign. The expansion plan, outside of electoral politics, will completely reconstruct that entire community and this point cannot be ignored. As the deadline looms, it is important for both candidates to keep in mind that their votes have a much bigger impact outside their mayoral campaigns.
Follow John Surico @JSuricz
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