John Sexton, the president of NYU, cares what Villagers think. During a town hall meeting for NYU students held yesterday, he answered our question, “How do you feel about animosity you face from Villagers about NYU expansion?” with an eight-minute-long response.
Sexton started out by telling the story of a woman who stopped him on the street to ask heated questions about the new building on Washington Square South, which will feature a church and housing for the cardinal who used to inhabit the church space that was once there.
“There was a developer that was there — here’s what people ignore — the developer had already purchased the spot and was going to build a 14-story building there [before NYU bought it back]. We have the right to build a 14-story building there, but — and you can test this out yourself — as you come down Fifth Avenue, once you hit 12th Street, the building disappears behind the arch. It doesn’t block the blue sky behind the arch. We gave that up for the community.”
As for the dorm on 12th Street (support against which was almost unanimous), Sexton says:
“The 12th Street dorm was a building that was going up before we got involved. It was to be sold as apartments to you people [students] five years from now. The builder was not going to preserve the facade of the church, which is a relic of St. Anne’s Church, which was there before the building…the building might have been farther out to the sidewalk, or more intrusive to the neighborhood…we came in and essentially bought the building at a discount.”
Then he made a funny regarding the 12th Street dorm’s placeholder name of “Founder’s Hall”:
“I have been trying to get it the coolest name in the history dorms. This is obvious; this was St. Anne’s Church. What should it be called? Annie Hall! We could have Woody Allen there every year to welcome the students.”
Sexton’s overall message is that NYU is here to stay, and that it’s a force that might even do some architectural good for the neighborhood, because, you know, it could be worse. “People come in and then attack NYU for building a building that would be there anyway,” he said. As of his opponents, “If you follow carefully, it’s hard to find anything but the same name again and again and again associated with the critics. There’s always one critic. And that one critic has never found anything good with what NYU has done,” he said. Hm.
In his strongest Christine O’Donnell impression (“I’m you”) Sexton made himself out as an everyman: “Listen, I’ve lived in the Village since 1981. My family’s here, too — we all care about the Village. NYU cares more about it than anyone.”
He then hated on his uptown competition to please the crowd: “When Columbia did their expansion, they said, ‘We want it right there, and we want it to be continuous.’ We’ve said we’ll put it any place. What I would ask you to do is get informed about this.”
Get informed, people…or NYU will conquer faster than you can say “continuous.”