“Roosevelt Island wants to become Silicon Island.”
Councilwoman Jessica Lappin’s July press conference was clear: If Mayor Bloomberg’s inspired vision of New York as a Silicon Valley rival was going to happen, Roosevelt Island should be its hub.
The mayor, along with the NYC Economic Development Corporation, had released a “Request for Proposals” to the nation’s top universities. The city would provide prime real estate with almost no cost and pledge $100 million in infrastructure improvements to have a world-class “NYC Applied Sciences and Engineering School.” Three parcels of city-owned land were offered for the universities to choose from: a portion of Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Roosevelt Island
Months later, with the October 28th deadline for submissions approaching, Cornell University announced on Tuesday its partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. A highly reputable university credited as a catalyst for Israel’s recent technology boom, Technion’s partnership with Cornell makes its bid, previously hindered by lack of funds, stronger.
It also turns up the heat on Stanford, who is also part of a current alliance with City College of New York. Among the twenty-seven total competitors, many of the remaining schools’ top administrators have admitted in private the sizable lead that Stanford and Cornell have secured against them through aggressiveness, alumni connection and investment, reputation in engineering fields, and endowment.
Before issuing this RFP, the city had received eighteen less formal “expressions of interest” from twenty-seven schools around the globe. The NYC Economic Development Corporation estimates the project will generate $6 billion in economic activity, four hundred new companies, 8,000 construction jobs, and 22,000 permanent jobs for New Yorkers over the next few decades.
Roosevelt Island to become another Sand Hill Road?
What the two front-runners have in common seems to be location. Both Cornell and Stanford have plans for the Southern tip of Roosevelt Island. The specific site would be that of Goldwater Hospital, which is motion to be vacated completely by 2014. The two powerhouse engineering universities have formidable teams headlined by their school presidents. They have recently enlisted lobbyists, public relation firms and enthusiastic alumni to tout their Roosevelt Island plans.
Stanford’s five-hundred page proposal to turn Roosevelt Island into Sand Hill Road (an infamous street in Palo Alto that is both the birthplace of many startups as well as home to its famous creators) is almost complete. It will cost up to $2 billion in its entirety and take three decades to complete, but will accept graduate students as early as 2013. The campus will consist of 1.8 million square feet of residences, academic life, and student life buildings. The focus of the school will be on information technology, entrepreneurship, and executive education. Stanford proposes an 100 member faculty, with an estimate of about 2200 graduate students.
“This is like China,” one academic from Stanford exclaimed, in awe of the size and magnitude of the project.
“This can be transformative for the university, transformative for New York City and maybe even transformative in the way that research operates in the future.But it is something that will be difficult,” Stanford electrical engineering professor Bernd Girod stated to NYConvergence, “There is no model and no blueprint. It is uncharted territory. We have to be very smart about this.”
Cornell’s proposal, although not made public yet, has a different academic approach but is of the same magnitude. Cornell proposes 200 faculty members, “several hundred graduate students,” and ““four focused research hubs” tailored to New York’s specific strengths. These hubs would include technology for cleaner and more efficient buildings, information science and engineering for health care, social mobile networking, and “intelligent trustworthy systems” like cloud computing and information security.
Both schools have stated that their decision to opt for the Roosevelt Island land has to do with its accessibility by subway and the ease and speed in which the groundwork could begin. Across the East River is Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell’s new $1 billion, state-of-the-art medical research complex on East 69th Street.
|Credit: Stanford University President's Office|
"We think it's important for the location to be easily reachable by train," said Dan Huttenlocher, Cornell's dean of computing and information science. "This is not the taxi or limo crowd. These are grad students. Mass transit is key to making it part of the fabric of the city."
|Credit: Stanford University President's Office|
Robert Reidy, Stanford’s Vice President of Land, Buildings, and Real Estate, in a recent presentation to students, showed a preliminary rendering of the campus, complete with buildings centered around an open green space, cafes, retail shops, an auditorium, and a gym along the East River.
Reidy added that some existing buildings would inevitably have to be demolished in order to create a 10-acre site for the new campus. As for the tram, Reidy simply stated that he finds it “just odd.”
Save a Few Concerns, a Positive Community Reponse
While transit seems to be the main concern at hand from the competing universities, the Roosevelt Island community has other concerns. The Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) created a committee to meet with the potential academic institutions and the E.D.C.
A community benefit agreement is the top priority of Island leaders. On September 27, an informal meeting was held between the RIRA, local organization leaders, and Cornell representatives. Organized by New York State Assembly Member Micah Kellner, residents voiced their concern about the Island becoming polarized, with an “us” versus “them” separation.
Roosevelt Island’s transition into a college town is a main point of concern. There was discussion of how the school’s bus system with work, what role public safety would play, and how necessary a mixing of the communities would be.
The Cornell representatives responded positively, expressing a strong desire to work hand-in-hand with the community. They had spoken to the heads of the local schools to discuss the possibility of various mentoring programs, a shared library, and other educational partnerships. According to local residents at the meeting, the Cornell representatives showed a strong interest in learning more about the culture of Roosevelt Island in efforts to create a cohesive community.
Still, the optimism and excitement in response to the Roosevelt Island proposals has left some room for bitterness. A recent meeting in Flushing hosted by Queens Civic Congress President Patricia Dolan resulted in Dolan’s curt interruption of E.D.C president Seth Pinsky.
“Roosevelt Island is not Queens,” Ms. Dolan stated.
“And I didn’t say it was,” Mr. Pinsky replied.
Community lobbyists such as Ms. Dolan, who is advocating a recently zoned Willets Point (which some at the meeting pointed out even Robert Moses could not fix), have come to the realization that their zones are no longer being considered. But a high-tech campus on Roosevelt Island, Mr. Pinsky claimed, will do wonders for Western Queens. Communities such as Astoria and Sunnyside will benefit from proximity when startups and students look for relocation options off the island.
|Credit: "Roosevelt Islanders" blog|
But to those involved with Roosevelt Island, response all across the board from political figures to organization leaders, has been in strong support for the project.
Councilwoman Lappin stated at her press conference in July, “We will welcome you, we will work with you and we want you. We did not want a hotel when that was proposed, we didn't want a big box store or luxury condos, but a world class engineering school- we want you.”
An Optimistic Reception
The island, populated by 12,000 people, will give up ten acres to the winning university. Most residents have welcomed Bloomberg’s initiative as a positive alternative to the luxury condo development that has occurred there recently. In their eyes, a new engineering school has the ability to grow Roosevelt Island’s popularity and economic development without losing its small community feel. It goes hand-in-hand with the island’s growing reputation as a place for new technologies such as electric car charging stations and wireless parking sensors.
“This is going to be extremely beneficial as well as promotional,” says Alex K., owner of Trellis, a diner that is a short walking distance from the proposed site, “That is, if we can get our lease renewed before the thing gets built.”
Erin Jones, a Roosevelt Island resident since 1997, and a waitress at nearby Riverwalk Bar and Grill, says that she has noticed how things have come a long way.
“Years ago when I first moved here, everyone waking up and down Main Street knew each other. Now if it isn’t the Riverwalk condos then it’s the Octagon condos,” she says, “I don’t mind so much as much as the older crowd might.”
Local businesses are excited to welcome the influx of laborers needed for such a vast massive project. It may be the economic boost the island has been looking for. Additionally, the location of the proposed site at the Southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island means that those on their way to the campus will commute through Main Street and bring life to its empty shops.
Main Street, which has recently seen almost a third of its small businesses shuttered, has been looking for new renters. An overwhelming majority of Roosevelt Island residents, in a recent poll taken, would like to see more well-known businesses opened. Some suggestions given were Duane Reade, a movie theatre, McDonald’s, and maybe, if they’re lucky enough, an additional Starbucks—surely all college student necessities.
|Credit: Huffington Post|