With his hand essentially forced by a hasty withdraw of Stanford on Friday, and the hugely enticing carrot of a $350 million gift from Duty-Free billionaire and Cornell alum Charles Feeney, Mayor Bloomberg announced on Monday that the Cornell team will be building the NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island. The terms “game changer” and “transformative” were bandied about with regularity throughout the mayor’s midday press conference, which was streamed live on the net to the delight of Cornell’s partnering campus, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology. The Israeli students’ digitally lapsed cheering added a techy touch.
The mayor said the plan was the boldest and most ambitious of the entries. Ultimately, the two million square foot campus will include housing for 2,500 students and 280 faculty members. A 150,000 square foot net-zero building just south of the Queensboro Bridge on the 10-acre site of Goldwater Hospital promises to be “the largest net-zero energy building in the eastern United States.”
The effort was praised for its community inclusiveness with over a half a million square feet of open space to be designed by Field Operations, $150 million in start up capital for spin-off businesses, and public school programming for 10,000 students. SOM’s green roofed net-zero building may have been the engineering coup de gras that put the other teams out of the running, but the waterfront access won over many.
For now, inclusiveness may have to stand in for connectedness. The island has one subway stop on the F line and a somewhat recently upgraded air tram. The Queensboro bridge sweeps right over it. A 2009 report on Roosevelt Island’s accessibility (AccessRI) commissioned by NY State Senator Jose Serrano and conducted by the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning found that the existing infrastructure is in need of repair and already stretched to capacity. Infrastructure upgrades by the city to the tune of $100 million are part of the competition offerings. Noting that the current residents on the island “are struggling with a myriad of issues that range from problems caused by aging and neglected infrastructure to demographic and social changes” coupled with “perceptions of inadequate governance that result in the feeling that their concerns are ignored and will never be addressed,” AccessRI called for legislation not only to improve the island’s physical connections on and between the island and the city but also to restructure its governance. Currently, the island is owned by the city but operated by a state-chartered corporation, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), a set-up that island residents complained lacked transparency and accessibility.
At Monday’s press conference, Mayor Bloomberg joked that he looked forward to seeing increased water taxi service on the East River and all around Roosevelt Island. But it will take more than water taxis to make Roosevelt Island and the NYTech Campus a tangible success story.
With additional reporting by Tom Stoelker.