Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Story of Columbia University's Second Campus

So I am going to tell you a New York real estate story, the story of Columbia University's second campus. Their current location is their third campus.

Columbia University has been around since 1754, in other words, before the American Revolution. It is a recent college by the standards of a Virginian or a European, but it is still venerable.

It was originally located down by Wall Street, the street named for the wall they built to keep the Native Americans out. That's right they built a wall, and south of that wall was "civilization". How ironic given the pestilent sore of moral depravity that Wall Street represents to the world today! Back then, there was a lot of open country, a lot of farms, and no skyscrapers. But it started getting crowded, people were building the area up, so they decided to move out of there and bought a second campus somewhere around what we call today midtown, and sold their first campus.

After a while, they realized that they had made a mistake. They should have kept their first campus as a long term real estate investment and merely leased it out to others as Wall Street real estate was proving to be a good investment. So, when, years later, midtown was also getting crowded and they started looking for a new campus, they remembered this lesson. This time they leased their old campus and moved to their new location, the location they have now, in Morningside Heights.

So the question you are supposed to be asking yourself, is where in midtown the second Columbia campus was located and what is it called today.

The second campus was Rockefeller Center.

When I heard this, I realized that I had been told this long ago, but had not understood what I had been told. I remember reading that when the Japanese bought Rockefeller Center that what they had actually bought was the buildings not the land. The buildings themselves had been built on land owned by the Columbia trust on a 99 year lease said the article in the NY Times.

Now Columbia is one of those old American names filled with Symbolism and doesn't necessarily refer to Columbia University.  We used to call everything Columbia. The Statue of Liberty is called Columbia. So I thought nothing of it, and just assumed it was the name of an old financial institution or something like that. But no, when they said Columbia Trust, what they meant was the Trust for Columbia University.

The moral of the story is that educational institutions are well positioned to benefit from long term real estate investments in the cities where they reside. For two other examples, check out the history of the real estate investments of Harvard and Stanford.

Wikipedia page for Columbia

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