Columbia Students, Activists Occupy Harlem Warehouse in Campus Expansion
HARLEM—Just call it Occupy Warehouse.
A small group of Columbia University students and local activists have occupied a storage warehouse on 125th Street that is part of the university's West Harlem campus expansion plans.
The Tuck-it-Away warehouse at 655 W. 125th Street is due to be acquired via eminent domain by the Empire State Development Corporation as part of Columbia's new 17 acre, $6.3 billion campus expansion.
"We are taking this building over from the Empire State Development Corporation which is not acting in the interest of the citizens and giving it back to it's rightful owner," said Tom DeMott from the Coalition to Preserve Community, a group opposed to the expansion.
DeMott said the group obtained permission from warehouse owner Nicholas Sprayregen to be there.
Sprayregen, who owns several warehouses in the expansion zone, has refused to sell his property to the university and fought efforts to take it using eminent domain. In June of 2010, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain, saying the area was blighted.
About 20 people camped out at the warehouse on Thursday night. They began camping outside after they say they were warned by authorities that the building owner would face fines if they slept inside the building.
On Friday evening, a police officer stood a few feet from where a group of about 10 people had set up camp. A police car sat across 125th Street.
Columbia is extending into West Harlem from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue. The area also includes the north side of 125th Street and three properties on the east side of Broadway from 131st to 134th street.
The plan will see the creation of 6.3 million square feet of space, with the first phase of the project scheduled to be completed by 2015. Later phases are scheduled to be completed by 2030.
Columbia University was not immediately available for comment but have previously said they are abiding by the terms of the community benefits agreement and are meeting hiring goals.
"The goal is to stop a vicious displacement plan and suggest to Columbia that the community should be shared," said DeMott.
Alexandra Afifi, 21, a senior at Columbia College, said she opposed the expansion. The issue hasn't been a major topic of discussion among students until recently, she said.
"I've been watching Columbia transform this neighborhood in my four years here and by transform, I mean swallow," said Afifi. "As a student I don't see any reason for the expansion except profit."