Bringing Big Tech to the Big Apple
U3 helped Cornell University create a new campus to grow their applied science programs, catalyze the tech industry in New York, and diversify the city’s economy.
In the wake of the 2008 recession, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to make the city less dependent on the fortunes of Wall Street, and diversify the city’s economy by investing in expanding the technology industry. When the administration sent out a call for proposals, Cornell University asked U3 to oversee their bid to develop a world-class applied science and engineering campus.
For Cornell, it was an opportunity to strengthen their science program by empowering students with the ability to move seamlessly between research and application. They already had an excellent science program at their Ithaca, New York campus, but the second campus in New York City would Cornell directly engage with the companies and organizations that were applying the science they teach.
During this first phase of our collaboration with Cornell, U3 supervised the entire competition process. We conducted a rigorous analysis of Cornell’s strengths to help the University articulate its academic vision and urban design strategy. Advising the University to select the Roosevelt Island site was an early and important decision, as was defining the building program, which we bolstered with student housing, a hotel, and corporate colocation buildings. We also worked with University leadership to select the design and development partners and define the budget and funding plan – leveraging our extensive expertise and industry knowledge to find partners who we knew could work quickly and do the job well. With a clear strategy in place, we were able to help Cornell tell a convincing story about how their campus would be a catalyst for growing NYC’s tech sector.
In 2011, Cornell won the competition and received a 12-acre site on Roosevelt Island along with $100 million of capital funding. U3 helped negotiate the terms of a predevelopment agreement, ground lease, and funding agreement with the city.
Once the competition was won, the real work began. U3’s role evolved, and we became project managers responsible for shepherding the new campus through the city’s land use, design, and environmental review processes on an accelerated schedule. An effort of this size and importance required a great team, and U3 connected Cornell to lobbyists, elected officials, and environmental consultants who knew how to get things done, as well as members of the Roosevelt Island community. We also managed a competitive solicitation process to select private development partners for the campus’s non-academic uses.
The Cornell Tech campus broke ground in January 2015 and opened in the summer of 2017. Phase 1 was planned with 800,000 square feet across five buildings, including academic space, a corporate co-location building, and an apartment building for students, faculty, and staff. This phase also includes The Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel, for which U3 helped to identify the developer and capital sources, and the Verizon Executive Education Center. These facilities will accelerate Cornell Tech’s role as a magnet for innovation by providing a venue for academic conferences, executive programs, workshops, and lodging. When fully completed, the campus is expected to grow to a full capacity of 2.1 million square feet – including 700,000 square feet of academic space – and enroll 2,500 graduate students.
Cornell Tech has become a centerpiece of the city’s booming new tech economy. For students, it’s a chance to gain practical experience applying their lessons to real-world problems. For the city, the campus is a message to students, start-ups, and major corporations that New York is serious about tech.
And for U3, this successful seven-year collaboration marked the beginning of an ongoing partnership with the University.