NYC, Cornell Embark On Giant Science Campus

Roosevelt Island, a narrow, two-mile-long strip of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is in for a big change. That’s because New York City, Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have agreed to partner to build the first phase of a planned two-million-square-foot applied science and engineering campus there that will have all the cleantech bells and whistles.

In addition to providing the 11-acre Roosevelt Island site, New York said it would pony up “$100 million in city capital to assist with site infrastructure, construction and related costs” for the project through its Applied Sciences NYC initiative. Cornell and Technion expect their phase of the campus to be completed by 2017, and the city said more partnerships are possible, with talks ongoing with Carnegie Mellon, Columbia and a New York University-led consortium. The campus is expected to hit 1.3 million square feet by 2027 and be completely built out by 2043.

roosevelt island, cornell campus

image via NYC Mayor's Office

Stanford University had been in the running to help develop the Roosevelt site, but fell by the wayside in mid-December. One big key to making the Cornell partnership come together was a staggering donation of $350 million that was announced as an anonymous gift, but was later revealed to have come from Charles Feeney, a Cornell graduate and philanthropist.

In addition to its research and teaching in applied sciences, Cornell/Technion’s proposed NYC Tech Campus “will combine cutting edge technologies to create one of the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient campuses in the world,” the city said. Among the features: a 1.8-megawatt solar array – “situated toward the arc of the sun” to maximize solar energy, according to Greentech Media – as well as a 400-well geothermal field.

The city, meanwhile, is expecting big returns for its investment. It forecast “the campus alone will help create up to 20,000 construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs,” and said the development will spin off some 600 companies and an additional 30,000 permanent jobs.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.