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Cornell Wins $100 Million Bid to Build Campus on Roosevelt Island

By DNAinfo Staff on December 19, 2011 8:15am  | Updated on December 19, 2011 2:56pm

By Jill Colvin and Ben Fractenberg

DNAinfo Staff

UPPER EAST SIDE — After months of anticipation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Cornell University the winner of the city's $100 million competition to build a new state-of-the art engineering and applied science graduate school on free city land Monday, hailing the deal as a "game changer" for New York.

“Today will be remembered as a defining moment," Bloomberg told reporters at the New York/Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side, where the winners embraced and smiled broadly as they announced the news.

Cornell, which teamed up with Israeli heavyweight Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in its bid, plans to build an expansive, two million square-foot, $2 billion campus on Roosevelt Island that will eventually house 2,500 students and nearly 300 faculty members, complete with classroom, dormitories and research laboratories on the site of the current Goldwater Hospital, which is slated to close in 2014.

The eco-friendly campus is also set to be the east coast's largest net-zero energy facility,  complete with solar panels and geothermal wells that will allow buildings to produce as much power as they use.

And instead of opening years from now, Cornell President David Skorton and Technion President Peretz Lavie announced Monday that they plan to start teaching at an off-site location in 2012, with the first phase of the new campus set to open no later than 2017.

"This is as excit[ing] as a Nobel ceremony, I have to tell you. And I've been to two of them," said an ecstatic Lavie at the announcement.

“We are going to have something new, something... that will really energize this city,” he said.

Skorton stressed that the school hopes to work with the community to create a space where everyone feels welcome.

"This is not a moment for a touchdown dance for Cornell or Technion. This is a moment for a touchdown dance for New York City," he said.

The City's Economic Development Corporation estimates the new campus, which beat out six other bids, will generate more than 20,00 construction jobs, 8,000 permanent jobs, hundreds of spin-off companies and more than $23 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years, bringing the city closer to its goal of becoming the nation's next tech hub.

“It promises to create a beehive of innovation and discovery, attracting and nurturing the kind of technical talent that will spawn new companies, create new jobs, and propel our city’s economy to new frontiers," said Bloomberg, who has made the campus a center-point of his third term.

The city also announced Monday that, while Cornell will be awarded the million-dollar prize, it has not ruled out the possibility of addition partnerships with other applicants, including Columbia University, which hopes to expand its footprint uptown with a new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, New York University, which applied to build a Center for Urban Science and Progress in Downtown Brooklyn's Metrotech Center, and Carnegie Mellon, which had been eyeing a new campus on the abandoned Navy Hospital at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

"Stay tuned. We hope to have more to come," said Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, who said that the city will continue reviewing applicants and may have more winners to announce in the coming year.

Monday's announcement came just days after Stanford , considered one of the frontrunners in the hotly-watched race, made a surprise decision to bow out of the competition.

Hours after Stanford dropped out, Cornell announced it had received a $350 million anonymous donation to put towards its tech campus efforts — the largest in the university's history.

The moves appear to have cemented a decision by the city, which had not been expected to announce its pick until the coming year.

But officials insisted Monday that they were pleased with their choice, stressing Technion's long record of innovation and Cornell's already large footprint in New York.

"Cornell and the Technion was by far and away the boldest and most ambitions," said the mayor, who announced the competition for the new school in July as part of a larger push to bolster the city's tech sector.

Fellow officials also hailed the announcement as a big win.

“When I watched the presentation, I got goosebumps. It took my breath away," said City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, one of several east side officials who had petitioned for the new campus to be built on Roosevelt Island.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a frequent critic of the mayor, also hailed the deal.

“we are a city on the move," he said. "I would not want to be the mayor of Silicon Valley, 'cause here we come!”

The new school is expected to offer Masters of applied science degrees and PhDs in a variety of fields with an emphasis on engineering and entrepreneurship.

Once the school is fully up and running, it is expected to boost the number of full-time graduate students enrolled in engineering programs in the city by approximately 70 percent — something that that startups across the city say they're hungry for.

Charlie Kim, the CEO of Next Jump and a member of the advisory committee that helped select the winners, said that Cornell had been the frontrunner in his mind all along.

"Cornell was, by far, the hungriest and had the most modesty," he said, adding that the city needs all the qualified graduates it can get.

"We'll hire every engineer that graduates from this thing," he pledged.