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October 24, 2011 4:33 PM The University as Landlord

By Daniel Luzer

CooperUnion

Cooper Union (right) is of the few in universities the country that seems to have its heart in the right place and has kept with its original commitment to charge no tuition. High-quality education should be “free as air and water,” said founder Peter Cooper when he helped create the institution back in 1859.

It’s funded this particular arrangement in part through extensive real estate holdings in the extra high-rent East Village neighborhood. Sometimes this arrangement becomes troublesome, however.

According to a piece at CBSNewYork.com:

For 35 years the St. Mark’s Bookshop has been serving the community. But now, a bad economy may close the book on the neighborhood treasure.
To make ends meet, the St. Mark’s co-owners have done all they can think of to cut costs, including cutting their own salaries and living on their Social Security benefits. They’ve asked the owner of the building - The Cooper Union - to reduce their rent by 25 percent, from $20,000 TO $15,000 per month. They say it is a necessity to keep their business going.

St. Mark’s Bookshop is a longstanding feature of the neighborhood but the owners aren’t earning enough to afford their rent anymore. Local residents have a petition to the President of Cooper Union asking him to reduce the rent the institution charges in order to keep the shop open in its current location. From a post at EV Grieve, a New York blog, this morning:

Please contact Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha immediately.
A Board committee is meeting [today] to decide if they will reduce St Mark’s Bookshop’s $20,000/month rent by $5,000. Thousands of emails or calls will influence the decision.
Tell the President to reduce the bookshop rent to $15,000 a month until the economy improves. You can add any additional comments.
Your support is invaluable.

Until “the economy improves” is an awfully ambiguous marker, but whatever works. Let’s see where this goes. As a progressive, nonprofit institution that can’t earn any money from tuition, Cooper Union surely understands the importance of financial pressure.

But real estate is a revenue source; it’s how the school funds itself. It’s not operating a community development enterprise here. If St. Mark’s can’t afford $20,000 a month, surely some other business can. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer