Thursday, March 25, 2010

Never Again

The planned Campbell Center

As many of you know, Columbia is looking to make some changes and expansions at the Baker Athletics Complex.

The cornerstone will be the new Campbell Sports Center, named for Columbia football hero, head coach, and current Chair of the Board of Trustees Bill Campbell. The Center will significantly upgrade the almost 60-year-old facilities at the Chrystie Field House.

But the spectre of possible community objections was all I could think about after I saw this news report done by my former colleague Becky Spitz at New York 1.

Let me be clear, I think this project WILL happen. Just like the Manhattanville expansion of the campus will happen too. But from what I saw in that report, you can bet a bunch of so-called "community activists" will make this whole thing a lot more expensive and annoying than it has to be.

We all know what happened in 1968 when bogus community groups tried to label Columbia's proposed gym in Morninside Park as a "racist project." If that argument doesn't make any sense to you, it shouldn't. It was a smokescreen for a shakedown by some local homeowners and charlatans and an excuse for a crazed Vietnam War rant by students who were not quite as mature as their predecessors who attended Columbia in more adult times.

The ensuing riots not only killed the gym project, but badly harmed the reputation of the university for years. The athletic teams bore a very large share of the pain for the craziness and it stuck with athletics long after other parts of the school recovered. God bless those students and athletes who went through that and opted to stay or come to Columbia especially in the early 1970's.

This cannot be allowed to happen again. Not to our dedicated student athletes. Not to our dedicated fans. Not to our fellow New Yorkers who need jobs... now.

Columbia's attempts to make an environmentally friendly salt water marsh area at the complex are admirable. But if anyone thinks for one second that it will be enough to placate the so-called green "activists" who stand in the way of any development at any time in America, think again.

That'd better be a union tortoise!

Consider what's happening in California. For years, renewable energy companies have been trying to build a solar farm in the Mojave Desert. Makes sense, right? Wrong! Dozens of lawsuits were filed against every one of these companies because their projects were supposedly threatening a tortoise population that lives in the desert. The animal rights activists were short-circuiting even their greenie allies in a key project.

Except they weren't.

It turns out the lawsuits weren't really being filed by animal rights groups at all... they were really filed by unions who were cheesed off that the solar companies were planning to build their plants with... gasp... non-union labor. It was a shakedown pure and simple. Eventually one company agreed to use union workers and miraculously, all the lawsuits against it went away.

Just. Like. That.

You can be sure that the lion's share of the supposedly "concerned citizens" and small business owners who are objecting to Manhattanville and will certainly give Columbia headaches about the Baker Complex project will really be hucksters and shakedown artists too.

But let's not forget what I like to call the "Nudnik Factor." Nudnik is a great Yiddish word for annoying people who are good for little else than being annoying, nosy, and nit-picky. I submit that the smirking Mr. Ungar featured in the NY1 clip is a definite nudnick just waiting to pounce and slow down this worthy project with one ridiculous complaint after another.

The Audubon Business and Technology Center, better late than never

And just to prove that this isn't just a biased pro-atheltics screed, let me remind everyone what happened with the Audubon Ballroom during my own undergrad years at Columbia.

The once-lively ballroom was in absolute disrepair by the late 1980's. It was a glorified crack den. Then Columbia decided to take the building and turn it into a biotech research facility that would create jobs and improve an obvious blight on the Harlem area.

But not so fast. The university was accused of trying to erase racial history, because the ballroom was where Malcom X was killed in 1965. Students even occupied Hamilton Hall in 1992 to protest this evil plan.

Of course, Columbia won in the end. But the phony protests and arguments delayed the project for years and just when New York City was experiencing the height of its last significiant recession, (1989-1993), those jobs weren't there. However, I'm sure plenty of community leaders made out like bandits as they pushed their bogus grievances. And a few students got to miss class while Hamilton was occupied too. A win/win!

The point is, we shouldn't only be prepared to be annoyed, we should do what we can to pre-emptively dispel the troublemakers and shakedown artists who I can already see swirling around this project.

Columbia is doing the politically correct thing with all these information sessions. And that's what Columbia has to do.

But we alumni and fans can be more direct.

Here's my message to those who plan to stand in the way, once again, of Columbia's well-deserved and long overdue athletic upgrade:

We're On To You.

We're on to the bogus claims of environmental impact.

We're on to the ridiculous claims that you should be compensated $10 million because you'll get 15 fewer seconds of sunlight coming through your rent stabilized apartment windows every day.

We're on to your hatred of all things Columbia, all things corporate, all things that actually create real jobs and bring about positive change.

We won't let you kill or delay a good project just because you can yell words like "racist", "profiteering," and "hegemony" around.

The party's over. Time to get to work.


At Fri Mar 26, 07:04:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake: Whoa. I think your concerns about neighborhood opposition are exaggerated in this case. We're not building in a public park or in a nautural setting, although we do have to comply with some waterfront regulations (oddly, given that the building will be at Broadway).

It's going to be an improvement over what's there now and have little impact on residential units.

I'm more interested in the appearance of the building. The architect is highly regarded (see below) but at first glance the building doesn't look all that appealing to me. Hope that proves to be an incorrect judgement. You can see a rendering at

"Steven Holl is the architect for the new Sports Center. Holl is a New York City-based architect best known for the Pratt Institute Higgins Hall Insertion in Brooklyn, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki, Simmons Hall at MIT, and the recently completed Linked Hybrid mixed-use complex in Beijing. In July 2001 Time Magazine named Holl as America’s Best Architect."

At Fri Mar 26, 08:19:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That link is incorrect. Here is the correct one:
The site the building should be completed by 2012.

At Fri Mar 26, 10:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your concern, but, from what I have scene so far I think there won't be too many issues. It looks like no land purchases are involved and that created all the problems with the campus expansion.

At Mon Mar 29, 11:05:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preach it, brother!

At Tue Mar 30, 06:17:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

I did not know that Columbia has revitalized and rehabbed the old Audubon Ballroom building. But I did note last week that one of Malcolm X's assassins (the only admitted one, I believe) is in fact being paroled. Time has flown. huh? And the NYPD's handling of this incident was of course an early example of political correctness truy running riot; the investigation was simply a botch from the start.

As for the involvement and (inevitable, I'm sure) opposition of "community activists" to the planned Campbell Center, well, I haven't heard of any so far. Which of course is not to say it won't pccur, these matters always do let the rats out of the cellar.

But surely some of this also has much to do with the to-be-expected politcal naivete of collegs students. My own class was '67, and really, to recall the nonsense classmates back then spouted about "community needs" and suchlike is merely to remember the heigh of foolishness. Tellingly, too, Mark Rudd himself once admitted that the whole foofaraw over the gym was just a red herring and a non-existent "issue." There also isn't, to the best of my knowledge, a Columbia-built gym in Morningside Park to the actual benefit of area community.

I also, however, remember an ad the Columbia football team from (I think) '70 placed somewhere in which it expressed its collective view that, as per Yale's appallingly narrow-minded prexy Kingman Brewster and his then-bedfellows the Black Panther Party, a black man (one of their members accused of murder) could not possibly get a fair trial in New Haven at that time. So such foolishness has never quite been restricted simply to self-appointed "community" voices. In fact, I found the text of the ad from the Lions' football team about two years ago via a modest Google search.

Enough. I wish the Campbell Center nothing but well. We need it. And I fear the appearance of "community activists" and their allies.


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