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Recession Helping Colleges Expand Facilities

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
September 23, 2009

A combination of enrollment growth and low real estate prices are prompting many institutions of higher learning to expand their facilities.

The New York Times reports that the New York Institute of Technology recently bought Clearview Cinemas' former 62nd and Broadway theater, while the School of Visual Arts added its name to Clearview's Chelsea West property. The schools will use the properties for various events including lectures and film festivals.

"We saw the opportunity to increase our footprint in the Columbus Circle area," said Rebecca Kogan, a spokesperson for NYIT. "The school is always interested in acquiring new spaces, whether it be on Long Island or here in Manhattan."

According to Brett Zelner, an executive managing director at the Lansco Corporation, a commercial real estate services firm, many schools are trying to find more space. "People are going back to school, getting new degrees, learning a new technical skill," he explained, "and we've moved and placed a lot of different schools that are expanding in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, New Jersey, and even outside New York, in Chicago, in California."

Neil A. Lipinski, a principal and senior managing director at the brokerage Colliers ABR, remarked that schools are also expressing interest in leasing properties.

"Because schools of higher education do have a limit on the rent they can pay, they are intrigued now by the rents dropping by 20 or 30 percent," he explained. "So the combination of increased demand, being opportunistic and rents being reduced has made them more of a player right now in the office market than they have been in the past."

The recession has given similar opportunities to other institutions as well. The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area reports that Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, is launching a $22 million expansion plan that will add three new buildings and a sports and wellness center to its campus. The move is part of a push to grow the historically black women's college from 700 to 1,000 students over the next few years.

"When I came here, I knew with this great team we'd be able to embark on a great plan, but I didn't know it would happen so soon," said President Julianne Malveaux. "We didn't plan the recession and it's hurt many people in a lot of way, but this is one positive byproduct."

Bridget Chisholm, a consultant who helped the college secure the financing, noted that a combination of low interest rates and the effects of the recession made it a better time to embark on expansion right away.

"Fundraising for capital campaigns has been hard, but right now construction markets are low so you can get some really aggressive pricing along with affordable debt," she explained. "It's kind of a perfect storm for being able to move ahead with something like this."

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