A first-ever ranking of the New York colleges with the largest property footprints at a time when many are expanding their strongholds
More than a decade after it was first proposed, Columbia University’s massive Manhattanville campus has started to take shape in earnest, with two of the biggest buildings now open: the 450,000-square-foot Jerome L. Greene Science Center at 3227 Broadway and the 60,000-square-foot Lenfest Center for the Arts at 615 West 129th Street.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger touted the local benefits of the expansion, which will include about 15 new buildings and an acre of public green space, last summer. He said the new campus would employ about 2,500 people over the next decade and that the school would commit $150 million in benefits to the West Harlem neighborhood, including $20 million for an affordable housing fund.
Despite those windfalls, the campus has faced ongoing community protests and a series of legal battles over the use of eminent domain. But the courts eventually ruled in Columbia’s favor, and the biggest hurdles for the Ivy League school now appear to be in the rearview.
David Carlos, a senior managing director at Savills Studley who specializes in working with nonprofits, described the new campus as a game changer for universities in New York City. “It was very complicated and a bit controversial, but given who they are, they were able to get it done,” he said, adding that Columbia’s new campus has redefined West Harlem and “will allow the university to grow and expand for the next 50 years.”
And that’s one of dozens of higher educational institutions in the city.
To find out just how much property New York’s biggest schools control in the five boroughs, The Real Deal ranked the leading private colleges and universities by the total volume of their real estate holdings. The top 10 schools combined owned more than 45 million square feet across 549 buildings and lots as of Feb. 28, our analysis of data from the Department of City Planning and the city’s tax assessment roll shows.
Properties held by CUNY and SUNY were not counted since both are public institutions and occupy city- and state-owned properties — making the concept of ownership less meaningful. University-owned hospitals were also excluded since they operate as separate businesses from the schools.
When Seth Pinsky spent his first year at Columbia University in 1989, the school had to work a lot harder to persuade students that its Upper Manhattan location was a safe place.
“Their whole pitch was: We have a real campus, unlike other schools in New York. You can be safe here. We have control of our immediate neighborhood, so we make sure that nothing too scary happens in Morningside Heights,” the RXR Realty executive and adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia recalled.
Fast-forward nearly three decades, and the city is seeing plummeting crime rates and skyrocketing property values. And Columbia — now about halfway through its expansion plan spanning roughly 17 acres — is causing more concerns about gentrification than safety.
NYU is upping its real estate book as well, most notably with plans for a 735,000-square-foot building at 181 Mercer Street in Greenwich Village.
The higher-education giants took the top two spots in TRD’s analysis by notably wide margins. Columbia came in first with roughly 14.9 million square feet across 232 properties, and NYU followed with about 12.8 million square feet across 110 properties. (By comparison, the city’s largest commercial landlords, SL Green Realty and Vornado Realty Trust, reported at the end of last year that they had stakes in Manhattan buildings totaling 29.5 million and 23 million square feet, respectively.)
The two universities essentially bookend Manhattan, with Columbia’s stronghold Uptown in Morningside Heights, and now Harlem, and NYU’s Downtown in and around Greenwich Village. NYU also owns the Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, among other real estate holdings in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
The numbers drop significantly after that.
Fordham University in the Bronx came in third with about 3.3 million square feet across 21 properties, followed by St. John’s University in Queens with roughly 2.7 million square feet across 43 properties. Cornell University, based in Ithaca, New York, rounded out the top five with roughly 2.6 million square feet across 16 properties in the city.
Fordham owns the largest single New York City real estate asset among all the private universities — an academic building at 441 East Fordham Road that spans about 1.7 million square feet. Columbia and NYU’s biggest properties are both 1.5 million square feet each.
Spokespeople for Columbia and NYU provided information for this story. Representatives for Fordham and Cornell declined to comment, while a representati上海千花网