After six years of planning, Roosevelt Island’s first hotel will finally open its doors June 1 right on the Cornell Tech campus.
The Cornell-inspired hotel named Graduate Roosevelt Island has been in the works since 2015, when hotel brand Graduate Hotels began conversations with the University to open a branch on Cornell Tech’s then-materializing New York City campus.
At the time, Cornell was five years into construction on Roosevelt Island, which lies between Manhattan and Queens. Cornell and Graduate Hotels confirmed their partnership when they announced plans to build Graduate Roosevelt Island in March 2017, several months before Cornell Tech’s official opening.
For Graduate Hotels president David Rochefort ’10, being selected by the University for the project had a special meaning for the young brand.
“We were so young to go through a process with such a prestigious university,” said Rochefort, describing the early stages of the partnership. “Being able to prove ourselves through that process was well worth the time because it really helps validate us and validate our vision.”
The 18-story hotel has 224 guest rooms, a rooftop bar and restaurant, with views of the New York City skyline from the roof, a feature that Rochefort said he believes set the hotel apart.
“[The roof is] truly a destination in and of itself,” Rochefort said. “There is really no building in any of the outer boroughs that match our proximity to Manhattan while still having the view that we do.”
Opening Graduate Roosevelt Island did not come without obstacles. In addition to the technical complexities of construction in New York City, the opening was delayed because the city temporarily halted all non-essential construction in March 2020 due to the pandemic. According to Rochefort, the delayed timeline gave the hotel time to plan their opening for when demand for travel returned.
The hotel also worked to craft its brand, combining the centuries-long history and traditions of Cornell with the modern aspects of Cornell Tech, said Prof. Lisa Chervinsky, operations technology and information management.
The Graduate Hotel brand seeks to celebrate the college experience, and the brand has hotels in notable university cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan, Tempe, Arizona and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that highlight the histories of college towns.
“The Graduate brand goes into towns and areas with strong university culture. Cornell has a very strong university culture,” Chervinsky said. “Cornell Tech is relatively new to the scene. That culture just hasn’t had a chance to evolve yet.”
Graduate Roosevelt Island found ways to bridge the gap between old and new through its interior design. In each room, lamps spell out the Cornell Fight Song in Morse code, and some light fixtures are inspired by science projects of Cornell alumni, combining advancements of modern technology at Cornell Tech and Cornell history.
Rochefort hopes to use the hotel lobby to act as a “living room” for the Roosevelt Island community and highlight the accomplishments of the Cornell Tech community.
“Surrounding us are all these amazing minds that are creating and developing technology,” Rochefort said. “We wanted our lobby to be that communal social space that when [everybody] unplugs from thinking about the future, this is where conversation and social[izing] happens.”
The hotel will be open to the public June 1, but discussions about the grand opening are still underway. According to Chervinsky, the grand opening is a key publicity opportunity for Graduate Roosevelt Island, especially since the isolated location puts them at a slight disadvantage as it is detached from the main five boroughs of the city.
Rochefort said he hopes to eventually open a Graduate Hotel near Cornell’s main campus in Ithaca and said he remains optimistic about future opportunities to branch out.
“The design details of the [Roosevelt Island] hotel were meant to celebrate Cornell and Cornell Tech without taking those really unique stories from Ithaca that we want to make sure we can tell when we eventually come,” Rochefort said. “I’m confident we’ll get there eventually with the right opportunity.”