COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, in a never-ending search for a larger campus, has long had an outpost for faculty housing at 455 Central Park West — 53 apartments in an 26-story tower attached to the French Renaissance chateau at West 106th Street.
So it was something of a surprise when a foundation associated with New York University bought a large condominium in the complex. The unit, which cost $5.2 million, is built into one of the huge turrets of the chateau, once the city’s first cancer hospital and later a scandal-plagued nursing home. The duplex apartment has a round living and dining room with 37-foot high ceilings and Central Park views, along with three more conventional bedrooms.
Was N.Y.U., which has its own expansionist tendencies, finally moving north to the very gates of New York City’s only Ivy League bastion? A journey deep into the city’s property records suggests that N.Y.U. and Columbia may indeed have been doing battle, but a multimillion-dollar real estate deal was the means, not the end.
Columbia paid $45.4 million for the 53 apartments in 2004, or an average of about $860,000 per unit, a move that helped save the once-struggling development.
And Catherine M. Sharkey, a Columbia law professor, lived in a 2,000-square-foot two-bedroom on the second floor of the tower building.
But last June, the New York University School of Law announced that it had recruited Ms. Sharkey, an expert in product liability law and empirical legal studies, from Columbia. A month later the New York University School of Law Foundation signed a contract to buy the nearly 4,000-square-foot apartment in the same complex for use by Ms. Sharkey.
The property records show that the foundation spent $4.2 million two weeks ago to buy an 80 percent interest in the turreted apartment. The foundation had $155 million in assets at the end of 2006 and it is dedicated to supporting N.Y.U.’s law school, including the hiring and retention of faculty members.
Ms. Sharkey and her partner, Ina Bort, who practices commercial and maternity law in New York, bought the remaining 20 percent interest in the apartment for $1.05 million, but the foundation provided them with a mortgage to cover $650,000 of their share of the purchase price for up to 30 years (unless Ms. Sharkey leaves the university before then).
John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesman, said that the university and its law school provide housing for a “very large percentage” of faculty members, but he could not recall the purchase of such an expensive apartment for other faculty members.
In recent years, the foundation paid $3.5 million for an apartment at 99 Jane Street in Greenwich Village and $2.35 million for a condo on Pacific Street in Brooklyn. In 2005, records show the foundation sold a faculty member a half interest in a 20-foot-wide house on West 12th Street for $1.6 million. It provided an $800,000 mortgage.
Mr. Beckman said the law school foundation generally charges rent to faculty members for the use of apartments it owns, which remain the property of the law school foundation. “New York City ends up being a tremendous advantage to us,” he said. “New York is attractive to some of the best scholars in the world, but we have to deal with the New York real estate market.”
The Association of American Law Schools sets rules for recruitment of faculty members, requiring schools to disclose their plans before the end of the spring semester, but officials at Columbia and N.Y.U. said they knew of no limits to the size of compensation packages and housing allowances that could be paid to recruit star professors.