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After about two-and-a-half years of work, construction of the exterior of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s new Fiterman Hall is nearly complete. The building suffered irreparable damage when on Sept. 11, 2011, Seven World Trade Center collapsed onto it. In a recent interview with the Downtown Express, Steve Fiterman, son of Miles and Shirley Fiterman, the building’s benefactors, addressed the former Fiterman Hall’s history and his parents’ donation of it to B.M.C.C. He also discussed the new Fiterman Hall, a classroom building and student center scheduled to open to students in the fall. The building’s façade should be completed by the month’s end.
BY ALINE REYNOLDS | So is Fiterman Hall named after your dad, Miles Fiterman?
After my mother and father, yes. My parents gifted the building to City University of New York, for B.M.C.C.
How did that come about? Does your family have a personal connection to B.M.C.C.?
No. One of the things my father did was invest in real estate, and New York was an area he felt was a good place to do some of that. He bought the building from Columbia University in the late 1970s. I don’t know what changed his direction from doing something for-profit to doing something for nonprofit, but he and my mother made the decision that, rather than lease it to the school, it would probably be best to give it to the school — and that’s what they did. They were very interested in helping people help themselves, and education is one of the ways [people do that]. All I am is the keeper of the legacy!
Did your parents go to public colleges themselves?
Yes, they both went to the University of Minnesota.
Can you shed some light on the history of Fiterman Hall?
It was once owned by England. In the 1700s, King George II gave the chunk of land to the City of New York for the pursuit of education and the founding of King’s College, which ended up being renamed Columbia University. Columbia then held the property for hundreds of years.
Who occupied the building when your father bought it?
JP Morgan was a single-use tenant in the building — the bank had its operation in there. Then in 1993, JP Morgan sold the business to another bank, which also decided to move across the river to New Jersey. At the time, New Jersey was making a huge play to win away and influence Manhattan corporations. That left my dad, the real estate investor, with an empty building that he decided to give to B.M.C.C.
Where were you on 9/11, and how did your parents react to the collapse of Fiterman Hall?
I was with my father in his home in Florida — he was suffering [the effects of] a stroke at the time. We sat there and watched it in horror like everybody else. My father was extremely stoic through the day watching this. He made one comment: He looked at me and said, ‘They will rebuild that building. Don’t worry.’
Did your father have a say in the design of the new building?
No. They didn’t start drawing plans of the new Fiterman Hall until after my father’s passing in 2004.
Have you seen the inside of the new Fiterman Hall during the construction period?
Yes, I was given a tour of the interior a few weeks ago. It’s an amazing facility — it’s probably the most technologically advanced classroom building in America. The way they planned it, there are two entrances: one which aligns with the main campus on Chambers Street and another that looks onto the World Trade Center site [from] across the street from the National Sept. 11 Museum, the footprint of the original towers. So you’ve got a public access point for people who aren’t registered students and also an access point for the students when you walk in on the main level. You’ve also got this huge atrium and several elevators and escalators.
What are the views like of the World Trade Center?
They’re sensational. When you get up on the upper level, you can see Battery Park and the tip of Manhattan. Back in the 1970s, when they built the original W.T.C. site, you had to vacate a portion of Greenwich Street, since it didn’t go through the W.T.C. site. Now with the new W.T.C. site, they decided…that Greenwich needed to go back through. By doing that, they created an open space between W.T.C. 1 and 2. Fiterman Hall is the benefactor for most of that, in that you can see all the way down to the Hudson River. They’ve taken advantage of that with the design by using all that glass. It’s just going to be a magnificent place to go to school!