By Candice Ferrette, Newsday
Long Island University is selling $76 million in rights to build on its Brooklyn campus to Uniondale-based developer RXR Realty — the school’s biggest expansion in the borough since it was founded there in 1926.
The deal advances a larger $300 million project that would be a notable addition to the skyline, featuring a new university building with a rooftop athletic field and a high-rise residential tower, officials for both entities said.
Also, an unprecedented cash infusion of $41 million would go into the private university system, officials said. The school’s other main campus is LIU Post in Brookville, and its total enrollment of 17,000 is split about evenly between the two campuses.
“We are entering into an exciting collaboration with RXR Realty that will allow historic investments in our Brooklyn campus and help to propel LIU into its second century, to reach unprecedented levels of academic achievement and national prominence,” LIU President Kimberly Cline said in a letter last week announcing the plan to faculty and staff on the Brooklyn campus.
She noted that “not all the specific details of this project are finalized and details remain to be worked out.”
LIU and RXR Realty have been in negotiations for about a year and signed a formal agreement days before the end of 2017. They are currently engaged in the monthslong process of obtaining building permits.
With LIU heavily dependent on student tuition and donor gifts, its administrators had been mulling over the idea of selling the “air rights” to its Brooklyn campus since Cline became the university’s leader in 2013, to help fund upgrades to facilities and changes in its business model.
Located off Flatbush Avenue between Willoughby Street and DeKalb Avenue and just west of Fort Greene Park, the 11-acre campus is a desirable area for developers. Builders in New York City often buy what is known as air rights — empty space above existing structures — to construct taller buildings than zoning laws might otherwise allow.
The project is slated for the area where LIU Brooklyn’s athletic fields are located. It includes:
• An 18,000-square-foot LIU building, with the athletic fields relocated onto the roof.
• A 34-story tower that will have 476 residential units, with amenities including a yoga room, fitness area and roof terrace.
• A new parking garage to replace the current outdated structure.
Documents were filed with the city’s Department of Buildings on Jan. 3.
Up to 30 percent of the units in the rental building will probably be defined as “affordable housing” under a popular city tax program for new construction, said Seth Pinsky, executive vice president at RXR Realty.
“RXR is both a developer and a member of the larger New York metropolitan community. In these roles, we not only try to find great projects that satisfy demand in the marketplace but also look to strengthen institutions and municipalities through these developments,” Pinsky said in a recent interview with Newsday. “On LIU’s Brooklyn campus, we found the perfect opportunity to do both.”
Some faculty leaders are hoping LIU’s administration will use the revenue from the Brooklyn sale toward enhancing academics and programs.
Many have been resistant to curriculum cuts, which Cline’s administration argues were made because of dwindling student interest. Over the last year, veteran faculty on both the Brooklyn and Brookville campuses have written separate letters to the state Education Department, asking for a closer look into the academic and financial dealings of the school.
“The administration has apparently gotten a windfall, thanks to skyrocketing real estate values in Brooklyn,” said Ralph Engelman, a journalism professor who is vice president of the Long Island University Faculty Federation, the union representing faculty on the Brooklyn campus. “It is our hope that the deal will mark an end to the relentless policy of austerity that has led to severe cuts in staffing, departmental budgets, academic majors, graduate assistantships, and pay for adjunct faculty.”
In her memo, Cline said the additional financial resources will accelerate the strategic plan and fund capital improvements to the Brooklyn campus, including a new food court, facilities for a new planned Digital Game Design program, a communications center for media arts, expansion of laboratories and programs in computer science, addition of two floors on the Health Sciences and Pharmacy building, and more common study space with upgraded technology.
The RXR platform manages 71 commercial real estate properties and investments with an aggregate gross asset value of approximately $20.5 billion, comprising approximately 31.4 million square feet of commercial properties, inclusive of approximately 6.0 million square feet of buildings securing debt and preferred equity investments, a multi-family residential portfolio of approximately 2,500 units under operation or development, and control of development rights for an additional approximately 3,700 multi-family and for sale units in the New York Metropolitan area as of June 30, 2019. Gross asset value compiled by RXR Realty in accordance with company fair value measurement policy and is comprised of capital invested by RXR and its partners, as well as leverage.