Columbia is growing, thanks to Lee Bollinger

All of the top colleges in the U.S. are trying to add space for research, from Princeton to Yale University in New Haven, according to John Nelson, managing director in public finance at Moody’s Investors Service in New York.

This is a particularly hard problem for a campus like Columbia.  A modern campus in the heart of New York, the school lags far behind other Ivy League schools like Stanford in terms of size.  But Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia, looked at an urban location in west Harlem and saw the future of the school.

Putting together a team they identified a 17-acre site, advertised its interest in the area and began buying the properties.  Luckily, Michael Bloomberg had just started a program to convert dozens of areas across the five boroughs that were zoned exclusively for industrial use to parks, industrial, commercial and residential redevelopment.   The area in west Harlem was perfect, it had abandoned industrial space, storage facilities, and few residents.

Columbia begin clearing the site last year.  Donations have helped, a  $100 million gift from Henry Kravis, the founder of private-equity pioneer KKR and 1969 Columbia MBA alumni, will support the new business school while a 2006 donation valued at  $200 million from Dawn M. Greene and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation funded construction of the science center.

Experts credit Bollinger with the success of the project. “The fact that he has such a clear vision and such a sharp focus is critical,” said William Bowen, former president of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. The Manhattanville campus “couldn’t have happened if he had not understood the importance of it.”

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