After nearly two years of discussion and concessions, NYU 2031 — the university’s plan to increase our campus by 6 million square feet by 2031 — has been given the green light. In late July, NYU jumped its final civic hurdle when a downgraded but nevertheless substantial plan passed a crucial City Council vote 44 to 1.
Marked by expansive press coverage, vitriol and its share of memes, NYU 2031, frequently called the Sexton Plan after NYU President John Sexton, is an 18-year-long expansion project with a budget between $4 billion and $6 billion. The entire plan targets four areas of the city: Governor’s Island, downtown Brooklyn, NYU’s health corridor adjacent to the NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU’s core in Washington Square Village, the site of the city’s most vehement debate over the last year.
During a city council hearing in June, Sexton argued that “space at a school like NYU translates into talent.” But on an island, that mindset usually butts heads with surrounding locals. And while specific arguments against the plan were presented in numerous community board meetings, op-eds and protests, most were recycled from the usual crusade-like depiction of the neighborhood little guys versus a greedy corporate developer. The project’s most controversial construction centered on two super blocks located directly south of NYU’s Stern School of Business buildings and Bobst Library (numbered 6 and 7 on map of core).
In Greenwich Village, a neighborhood overfilled with veteran not-in-my-backyard advocates, the disputes revolved around public green space, student debt, frivolous spending, invasion of historic districts and construction noise and pollution.
An almost overnight compromise before the City Council vote in July forced the university to reduce and shift the density and footprint of planned high-rises and concede to more open space access by widening entrances into inner gardens. Its largest planned building on the superblock, known as the Zipper building for its peculiar shape, shrank by 70,000 square feet and the planned Mercer building was reduced to four stories. The final approved gross square footage was 26 percent less than NYU’s original application.
Among a hodgepodge of other renovations and restorations, the final plan for the core will add a total of four new buildings, three of which are high-rises, and extensive below grade construction beneath the current Washington Square Village complexes for a total of 1.9 million square feet. Construction is currently planned to start in 2014.
But for residents of 350 of the 1,296 units in the Washington Square Village complex on the northern superblock, the fight is not over. In what is expected to be the first of a long line of litigation, residents sued the university for violating their rights by planning to destroy a two-acre park on the superblock and in the process eliminate a ‘required service’ to tenants, according to DNAinfo. In a response, NYU spokesman Philip Lentz said that NYU strongly disagreed with the arguments presented in the lawsuit WSV Green Neighbors v. NYU.
“[NYU] will vigorously defend its plan to create new academic facilities, student dormitories, faculty housing and improved public space as approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council after a thorough and rigorous public review process,” Lentz said.
According to a letter from Sexton, though NYU is the nation’s largest private university with over 50,000 students, it has approximately half the square footage per student of Columbia, one-quarter of Harvard and less than a fifth of Yale. The span of NYU’s campus is currently 15 million square feet. The final plan can be viewed extensively here.
A version of this story appeared in the Aug. 26 print edition. Amy Zhang is web managing editor. Email her at [email protected]