Columbia project

NEW YORK CITY-Columbia University’s long-planned new campus in West Harlem cleared what is apparently its final approval hurdle Wednesday afternoon when the state’s Public Authorities Control Board gave its okay. The PACB action follows the New York City Council vote in 2007 to rezone the old Manhattanville manufacturing district, a 2008 ruling by a Manhattan judge upholding that rezoning and the Empire State Development Corp.’s approval last year of the university’s $6.3-billion general project plan.

A Columbia spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that the university has “already begun essential pre-construction activity, such as the movement of affected utility lines underneath Broadway. We are moving immediately into other such pre-construction work and look forward to beginning site preparation.”

As described in the university’s plan, the 17-acre project calls for a build-out of 6.8 million square feet above grade and two million square feet below grade over the course of 25 years. It will encompass new scientific research facilities, other academic facilities and university housing in 16 new buildings and one adaptively reused existing structure. There will also be a two-acre public park at the west end of the Manhattanville campus. The ESDC last year determined that the Manhattanville area is blighted and is thus subject to property acquisitions through eminent domain.

Along with creating a projected 14,000 construction jobs over the course of the build-out and 6,000 permanent jobs, “the expansion will provide nearly 100,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, enhance the area’s cultural activities and activate the neighborhood’s street life with wide sidewalks and ground-floor retail uses,” says Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement.

Gov. David Paterson notes in his statement that “while the national recession has led to a decline in development in New York, this $6.3-billion project will be one of the largest to move forward this year. Recognizing the needs of our West Harlem community, the project also includes a community benefits agreement that will provide scholarships for local residents, medical facilities for school-age children and enhanced curricula for local secondary schools.”

On the university’s new campus, its first in more than a century, “we will be able to find cures for diseases that afflict humanity, identify solutions to the problems of global society, enlighten people through the arts and explore the benefits of entrepreneurship, as we provide jobs and countless other benefits for our city and community,” says Columbia president Lee Bollinger in a statement. “We are thrilled to now be able to move forward.”

The five-member PACB consists of representatives appointed by the governor and by the majority and minority leadership of both houses of the legislature. Eleven statewide authorities, including ESDC, must look to the PACB for a final sign-off before entering into any project-related financings.