July 20, 2011

Cornell Intensifies Effort to Win NYC Tech Campus Competition

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Cornell’s bid to build a science and engineering campus in New York City intensified Tuesday as Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would seek final proposals for the project from interested universities by Oct. 28.

Just hours after Bloomberg announced that he would seek proposals, Cornell officially announced it would draft one. In the proposal, Cornell will outline for the city the details of its plan for the campus, from infrastructure projects to academic programs to financial logistics.

New York City hopes that its offer of nearly-free real estate — as well as $100 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements — will entice institutions and spur growth in the city’s high tech industry. So far, 27 universities have expressed interest in the project. Some have paired up, and 18 expressions of interest have been submitted in total. More universities may still submit proposals.

Since Cornell first expressed interest in the project in March, the University has begun aggressively pursuing the plan. Cornell started a lobbying campaign to persuade the city to accept its bid. It reportedly hired a lobbyist and a public relations firm as it pursues the project, according to City Hall News, a newspaper focused on New York City politics. On July 11, a week before Cornell announced it would submit a full proposal, President David Skorton took to YouTube in an effort to persuade the city to pick Cornell’s plan.

“We feel that this is an opportunity that we cannot miss,” Provost Kent Fuchs said. “This has not happened in the past 100 years where a mayor of a significant city has said, ‘Here’s land for a new campus,’ and we believe it would be a major mistake in terms of the history of Cornell for us to pass this up.”

Bloomberg announced the formal Request for Proposal process in a speech to the New York business community Tuesday, and Cornell officials, including Skorton and Fuchs, traveled to the city for the announcement.

Bloomberg said that with a science and engineering campus, he wants New York City to overtake Silicon Valley as the world capital of technology start-up companies, which will stimulate economic development. He added that he hopes the construction of the campus will help launch 400 new companies and create 22,000 permanent jobs.

“We understand that we will not catch up to Silicon Valley overnight,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “Building a state-of-the-art campus will take years, and attracting a critical mass of technology entrepreneurs may take even longer.”

One of the largest competitors to Cornell in the bid to unseat Silicon Valley comes from Silicon Valley itself. Stanford, located in Palo Alto, Calif., near Google, Facebook and other technology firms, also announced that it would submit a full proposal Tuesday.

Other universities that have expressing interest include Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and schools from Finland, India, South Korea and Israel. With Bloomberg’s formal Request For Proposals, more may still apply.

“It would be a major mistake in terms of the history of Cornell to pass this up, and we also don’t want some competing university to win instead of us,” Fuchs said. “The competition is intense and we’re taking this very seriously.”

A final announcement on the winning proposal will come in December.

Since March, Cornell has organized discussions with business leaders, graduate students, faculty and alumni to discuss the project. The proposal now has a name — CornellNYC Tech Campus — and the University announced it has decided on a location and a structure for the academic programs.

New York is giving the competing universities three tracts of land to choose from. Cornell will propose developing the land on Roosevelt Island, which lies between Manhattan and Queens on the East River — across the water from the University’s medical school, Weill Cornell Medical College, Fuchs said.

Stanford is also focusing on the Roosevelt Island location and has outlined plans for 200,000 square foot residential towers and academic buildings centered around an open green space, with cafes, retail shops, an auditorium and gym on the edge of the East River, according to Crain’s New York Business.

Much of the content of the universities’ statements of interest — including Cornell’s — has remained confidential in an effort to keep their respective bids competitive, Fuchs said.

Fuchs said that Cornell will differentiate its proposal with an unusual academic organizational structure centered around research hubs, instead of traditional departments like those found on the Ithaca campus. The hubs will focus on areas such as global media, technology for a healthier life, trustworthy computing and built environment, he said.

The focused research hubs would adapt as time goes on and the campus grows, Fuchs said. The city is requiring that the campus contain 200 faculty and several hundred graduate students.

The new campus will not include coursework for undergraduates so it does not compete with existing undergraduate universities in New York. Instead, undergraduates will come to the campus from Ithaca to pursue research and internships.

The Cornell team is also concentrating on developing a business model to include in the proposal that would not draw money away from the Ithaca campus, Fuchs said. Additional revenue for the campus beyond city funds and tuition from students would be raised from research funding, donations and company partnerships, he said.

“The objective here is to not take any Ithaca resources and divert them to New York City. We cannot do that,” Fuchs said. “But what this allows us to do in a very constrained environment economically in the near term is for us to grow but in a different area.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer