Monday, July 23, 2007

AKRF takes some heat

The New York City Economic Development Corporation/AKRF probably didn't expect much of a fight on Duffield Street, since the businesses and homes they want to destroy don't have deep pockets.

But this story is different in Harlem, where Columbia University/ESDC/AKRF want to destroy several businesses, including one that does buy the proverbial ink by the gallon.

Meet Nick Sprayregen, "real estate investor, king of the Tuck-It-Away storage empire, and newly minted newspaper owner." He is featured in a Village Voice article, "Big in Yonkers— Columbia foe buys house organ, ponders playing it."

Sprayregen vows to drag Columbia all the way to U.S. Supreme Court, and says he's got the money to do it. With the help of civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, he won a Freedom of Information case against the state on June 27. At issue are 117 documents that the Empire State Development Corporation, the public entity that would condemn his properties, has refused to hand over. The ESDC is appealing, so Sprayregen still has nada.

But he did succeed in revealing, by means of the judge's order, that the school and the state are perhaps overly close on this one. At the outset, Columbia hired the AKRF consulting firm to advise it in dealings with the state. As part of those dealings, the state is conducting a study of the neighborhood, known colloquially as the blight study—a task for which it called in the same firm, AKRF.

The judge in Sprayregen's suit took a dim view of the ESDC's official stance on the relationship, that a "Chinese wall" existed between AKRF's work for Columbia and its work for the public. AKRF referred questions to the ESDC, where a spokesperson declined to comment on why the agency won't release the paperwork. Columbia's spokesperson, La-Verna Fountain, says the school did nothing wrong, since it hired AKRF first. Who is Columbia to tell anyone, including the state, how to conduct their business?

It's great the our public authorities are encouraging economic development. But they are supposed to serve the public, not the other way around. Unfortunately, the ESDC and the EDC have almost no public accountability, and firms like AKRF seem shameless in exploiting the situation.