December 20, 2011

Roosevelt Island Residents Respond to NYC Tech Campus

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While New York City politicians trumpeted the expected economic effects of Cornell’s new tech campus, Roosevelt Island residents expressed a degree of concern about how the new school might change their community.

“People all know each other here, and I would hope students use the facilities on the island and eat at the restaurants and do not stay to themselves,” said Diana Brill, an employee at the Roosevelt Island Historical Society who has lived on the island for 34 years. “I hope the science center opens its doors to the community and creates programs to incorporate the island population. The influx will change the island’s graying demographic and we will try to be a part of that.”

Similarly, Seymour Williams, a financial advisor who has lived on Roosevelt Island for 28 years, said he is also guarded in his optimism, doubting the impact of the campus on commercial businesses.

“The new campus might have some effect, but we will have to wait and see. The distance to Main Street is farther than the distance from the campus to the tram and then Midtown,” Williams said. “No matter what we do we can’t compete with 59th Street or 34th Street, so I will be pleasantly surprised if it impacts retail positively.”

Their comments mark a contrast to the sentiments of some city officials, who expressed strong enthusiasm for the tech campus.

“Hooray for the home town team! I want to congratulate Cornell and the Technion universities for winning the mayor’s applied sciences competition,” said Micah Kellner (D-65th District), a representative in the New York State Assembly, after Cornell was awarded the bid on Monday. “I couldn’t think of a better place for New York’s world-class applied sciences university than Roosevelt Island.”

City Councilmember Jessica Lappin (D-5th District), whose district includes the future site of the tech campus, said the new school would “transform Roosevelt Island into Silicon Island.”

“This is a game changer for our city. I’m thrilled that Cornell University will be engineering our city’s economic future on Roosevelt Island. Cornell-Technion’s plan will make New York a high-tech capital,” Lappin said.

Some local business owners echoed the local officials’ high expectations for the economic benefits conferred by the tech campus.

“The dramatic increase in foot traffic will enhance my business, especially at lunch time. Many people go off the island to go to work, so more people during the day will help me,” said Alfonso Di Cioccio, co-owner of Riverwalk Bar and Grill, one of two bars on the island and the closest restaurant to the proposed campus.

Kaie Razaghi, owner of Trelli’s Restaurant on Main Street and a resident of the island for 15 years, said he hoped the campus would help slow down cuts in weekend subway and tram service to the island. Many Roosevelt Island residents do not own cars, so for many residents the subway and tram are the only ways off the island, Razaghi said.

Razaghi added that he did not think that the campus would impact his businesses very much during lunchtime, as Trelli’s is a ten-minute walk from the proposed campus site. However, Razaghi did hope that students and professors would make the trip when they had more time.

“While people might not walk up on a 15 minute break, we will get an overall increase in foot traffic,” Razaghi said.

Original Author: Dan Temel