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Cornell Wins NYC's Applied Sciences Competition

December 21, 2011

By Carolina Worrell
This story first appeared in ENR New York

Cornell University and its partner, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, have won New York City's competition to build a $2-billion-plus applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced December 19. The partnership team beat out seven other bidders for the mayor’s Applied Sciences NYC initiative, launched last winter, which aims to build or expand a state-of-the-art engineering and applied sciences campus in the city.

Cornell Wins NYC's Applied Sciences Competition
Rendering Courtesy of Cornell University
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The announcement follows Cornell’s news last week of a $350-million donation made to support the project. Cornell did not initially release the source of the donation, however, it recently confirmed that The Atlantic Philanthropies is the donor.

Under the deal with the city, Cornell will develop and own the campus and assume financial responsibility for its establishment and operations. The partnership will receive $100 million in city capital to help with building and related costs, as well as access to city land under a 99-year lease with the option to purchase the land for $1 at the end of the term. 

The partnership plans to build a 2-million-sq-ft campus for up to 2,500 students and nearly 280 faculty members by 2043. The city’s hope is that the campus will ultimately boost the number of full-time engineering students at the graduate and Ph.D. level in the city by about 70%. The campus will be organized around three interdisciplinary hubs: Connective Media; Healthier Life, and the Built Environment. Cornell will immediately offer master and doctoral degrees in areas including computer science; electrical and computer engineering; and information science and engineering.

The campus will be home to the Cornell and Technion-Israel partnership team and include 500,000 sq ft of green space open to the public, a solar array, and four acres of geothermal wells that will heat and cool the campus. The team’s plans include building an off-site location in 2012, prior to commencing construction of the Roosevelt Island campus. The first phase of the Roosevelt Island campus is expected to break ground by the beginning of 2015 and be completed no later than 2017. The campus is expected to have expanded to more than 1.3 million sq ft. by 2027.

Designed by the New York City office of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, the campus aims to be the city’s largest net-zero building.

The city says that with the Cornell-Technion selection completed, the project is set to move into the environmental and land use review stage, which includes the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process. The review is expected to be completed by fall of 2013, the city says.

A study done by the New York City Economic Development Corp. projects that the campus will generate more than $7.5 billion and more than $23 billion in overall economic activity during the next three decades. The study also projects that the campus will generate $1.4 billion in total tax revenue. The campus alone is expected to create about 20,000 construction jobs and 8,000 permanent jobs.

The mayor’s office says the partnership was ultimately selected because of the large scale and vision of its proposal; its financing capacity; its focus on collaboration between academia and the private sector; its ability to execute the project; as well as the track records of both Cornell and Technion in generating applied science breakthroughs and of spinning out new businesses.

The city says this is the first selection announcement under the initiative and that “productive discussions are ongoing” with partnerships from Carnegie Mellon, Columbia and a New York University-led consortium – all of which placed bids for the applied sciences initiative. The city says that the possibility of other science and engineering partnerships in the city is still open.

Meanwhile, Stanford University withdrew its $2.5-billion bid to build a Roosevelt Island campus under the initiative on December 16. After weeks of negotiations with the city, it was determined that “it would not be in the best interests of the university to continue to pursue the opportunity,” Stanford said in a statement. It would not elaborate further. The university had proposed a 1.9-million-sq-ft, graduate-level teaching and research campus that was expected to house more than 200 faculty members and more than 2,000 students upon completion.

The city said it received seven qualifying responses to its RFPs for the initiative, including Cornell’s and Stanford’s proposals. Other bidders were Amity University for use of Governor’s Island; Carnegie Mellon University/Steiner Studios for use of the Brooklyn Navy Yard; Columbia University for use of a Manhattanville site; New York University/University of Toronto/University of Warwick/The Indian Institute of Technology/City University of New York and Carnegie Mellon for use of a Downtown Brooklyn site; and New York Genome Center/Mount Sinai School of Medicine/Rockefeller University/SUNY Stony Brook for use of Midtown Manhattan site.

Mayor Bloomberg says the applicants are all “innovative, comprehensive, and far-reaching” and that he hopes the city can help all applicants eventually reach their proposals.

(This story was updated on December 20.)

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