October 17, 2011

Board of Trustees Endorses Tech Campus Proposal

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The Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the University’s NYC Tech Campus plan at a special meeting on Oct. 12, the University announced Monday. The endorsement comes as new details about the plan emerge ahead of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Oct. 28 deadline for proposals.

“I have not seen this level of enthusiasm by any action taken by this board in the nine years I’ve been on it,” Bob Harrison ’76, who will become chair of the board in January, said in a University statement. “I’m proud to have been part of what I think is a historic decision.”

President David Skorton, who has devoted significant amounts of time and resources to the tech campus proposal, was “exuberant” following the board’s vote, according to the University.

“Today is an extraordinary day for Cornell University — not just for 2011 but for the next 150 years,” Skorton said after the vote.

Cornell is competing against more than 20 other universities in a competition for the opportunity to build an engineering and technology campus in New York City. Cornell’s proposed campus would be built on Roosevelt Island on land provided by the city. Additionally, the city is offering $100 million to the winner to carry out infrastructure improvements.

Bloomberg said he hopes the tech campus will lead to new technology start-up companies in the city that would allow it to someday rival Silicon Valley.

New York City is expected to announce the winner of the competition in late November or December.

The trustees’ special meeting, held in New York City on Oct. 11 and 12, was devoted to the specifics of Cornell’s proposal.

The University has not revealed the details of its plans for paying for the campus, but administrators have promised no money would be diverted from the Ithaca campus to finance the project.

“It’s not a slam-dunk that we’ll win, and it’s not a slam-dunk that all of the budget part will work out, but it’s one of those big bets you place that you just think this is the right thing to do for the future of the institution,” Provost Kent Fuchs — who, along with Skorton, has taken a lead in planning and lobbying for the proposal — said in an interview on Oct. 4.

The University plans to pay for the campus through alumni donations — plus grants, tuition from the students on the campus, and other sources — but has decided not to seek firm commitments from donors before New York City announces a winner.

“We actually think they’ll contribute less if it’s not clear that we’re going to win, but if we’ve won, they’ll contribute more,” Fuchs said.

Although the winner of New York City’s competition will be given land for the campus and will receive $100 million for infrastructure improvements, the project will still require major investments by the winning university.

The city mandates that phase one of the project include facilities totaling at least 250,000 square feet, Fuchs said. The cost of building in New York City is at least $1,000 per square foot, he said, so the first phase alone will cost more than $250 million.

The final phase of Cornell’s three-phase project — which would be completed in 30 years — would add an additional one million square feet of space. It would cost more than $1 billion, Fuchs said, but commercial developers may take on part of the cost.

An article in Monday’s New York Times indicated that Stanford — perceived to be Cornell’s top competitor for the campus — may be better positioned to handle such large financial burdens. Stanford’s endowment is greater than $16.5 billion, according to The Times, while Cornell’s is about $5.2 billion.

Cornell administrators, though, insist that the University will be able to pay for the project.

“We believe we will raise the money, but it will take a lot of hard work,” Fuchs said.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst