After Yearlong Competition, Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus

December 19, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Michael Linhorst

Updated: After nearly a year of designing, lobbying and promoting, Cornell won the right to build a new engineering and technology campus in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday — a month earlier than anticipated. Cornell topped a field of 17 institutions that entered the competition, which culminated in a string of unexpected developments on Friday.

The University’s proposed campus, to be built on Roosevelt Island, includes more than 2 million square feet of space and will house almost 2,000 graduate students and about 250 professors. The project is expected to take 30 years to complete and cost as much as $2 billion.

“I think it’s fair to say that today will be remembered as a defining moment,” Bloomberg said. “In a word, this project is going to be transformative.”

The tech campus competition, which had been expected to continue until January, was radically altered Friday when Stanford University withdrew its bid. Stanford was widely considered Cornell’s primary rival, and its departure left Cornell as the clear front-runner in the contest. Hours later, Cornell announced it received a $350 million gift — the largest donation in the University’s history — to help fund the campus.

On Monday, the University revealed the donor to be Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by Charles Feeney ‘56. Feeney became a billionaire after co-founding the Duty Free Shoppers Group.

Cornell partnered with The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in its proposal. The Technion is credited with transforming Israel into a technological powerhouse, and it has an “incredible record of breakthroughs and technology,” Bloomberg said.

While Cornell will own the physical Roosevelt Island campus, “a significant part of that campus will be what we’re calling The Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute,” Provost Kent Fuchs told The Sun in October.

TCII will offer dual degrees and will be a “50-50 collaboration” between the two universities, Cornell said in a statement. The degrees “will focus on master’s students who want to commercialize and start new companies,” Fuchs said.

Bloomberg noted that the application from Cornell and the Technion called for the greatest number of students, the largest faculty and the most building space out of any of the proposals in the competition.

“Of all the applications we received, Cornell and the Technion’s was far and away the boldest and most ambitious,” Bloomberg said.

The proposal also promised to immediately establish a $150 million fund for start-up technology companies in New York City, the mayor said. “That fund is going to pay instant dividends,” he said.

As the winner of the competition, Cornell and the Technion will receive nearly-free land on Roosevelt Island and up to $100 million from the city for infrastructure improvements.

Bloomberg hopes this campus will become a lasting legacy of his third term as New York City mayor and will help the city to someday overtake Silicon Valley as the technology capital of the world.

“We think it will redefine our economic future,” he said on Monday. “History will write that this was a game-changing time in New York City.”

Skorton emphasized that he expects the campus will benefit everyone in the city.

“This is a story of connectivity: of connectivity between people and their ideas, between researchers and business people, between students and their dreams,” he said. “This is an exercise in inclusion and in having all the ships rise in this fine city.”

Technion President Peretz Lavie echoed Skorton’s enthusiasm for the campus.

“This is as exciting as the Nobel ceremony, I must tell you. And I’ve been to two of them,” he said.

The University proposed an aggressive timetable for opening the new campus. Classes will begin next fall and will initially be housed in leased space until the permanent campus on Roosevelt Island is constructed. Three hundred students will be enrolled in the school by 2018, Bloomberg said.

Cornell’s proposal calls for a campus composed of research hubs — a departure from the departmental structure on the Ithaca campus.

“The focus of the hubs will be dynamic, evolving to keep abreast of trends in both technology and markets,” the executive summary of Cornell’s proposal, obtained by The Sun last month, states.

The first three hubs will focus on connective media, built environment and healthier life, Lavie, the Technion president, said. “These hubs will be flexible. In five years they may be different,” he said.

The executive summary of Cornell’s proposal states that Cornell and the Technion want “to create the world’s leading campus dedicated to technology and enterprise.”

“With demo days, meet-ups, industry mentors and ties with early stage investors and incubators, the campus will be a focal point for the city’s technology sector,” the document says.

One of Cornell’s selling points during the competition was its deep network of alumni in the New York City area. Administrators argued that alumni would help raise money for the tech campus and work to make the start-up tech companies successful.

Friday’s announcement of a $350 million anonymous donation seemed to confirm Cornell’s promises of alumni support. It was the largest donation in Cornell’s history and one of the largest amounts ever donated to a university.

“I am thankful and proud that this extraordinary individual gift will support Cornell’s goal to realize Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for New York City,” Skorton said in a press release Friday. “Our entire community has come together, in a way that happens only so often in an institution’s history, with winning ideas, energy and the creativity that the mayor’s challenge deserves.”

Fundraising will be one of the primary methods for financing the campus, particularly because, since the financial crisis in 2008, Cornell has not taken on any debt to pay for new building projects. Other revenue for the new campus will include tuition, grants, corporate research projects and other agreements with businesses, Skorton said.

“It’s going to be more or less a pay as you go operation, which we think in the present circumstances is the only prudent way to go,” he said.

Cornell’s fundraising edge was a factor in Stanford’s decision to withdraw its bid, The New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources. Stanford was also upset by additional terms the city demanded after the university’s proposal was submitted, according to The Times.

“We were looking forward to an innovative partnership with the city of New York, and we are sorry that together we could not find a way to realize our mutual goals,” Stanford President John Hennessy said in a statement Friday.

The statement added that, according to Hennessy, the university “could not be certain that it could proceed in a way that ensured the success of the campus.”

Bloomberg said he was disappointed that Stanford withdrew its bid, but added that there was no clear front-runner at the start of the competition.

“In the end, the proposal that wanted it the most and that fit the best with what New York is all about … was the winner,” he said.

Comments