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Cornell Pledges 20 Percent Public Open Space at New Roosevelt Island Campus

By Shaye Weaver | November 18, 2015 4:39pm
 The first phase of the new campus will open the summer of 2017, officials said.
Cornell Tech Actively Builds New Campus on Roosevelt Island
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ROOSEVELT ISLAND — Cornell Tech promises to make its new $2 billion Roosevelt Island campus a resource for the community once it opens in summer 2017 by including a new cafe and plenty of public open space.

The pledge comes after residents complained last year that the project's planned 270-foot-tall residential tower would block views of the Queensboro Bridge from Manhattan and visually wall off the campus from the rest of Roosevelt Island.

Cornell broke ground at its new campus on the southern end of the island in June, and during a tour of the site on Tuesday, the school boasted plans to dedicate 20 percent of the campus to open space that would be available to the public and offer community programming.

The green space would be designed by James Corner, the architect behind the High Line, said Andrew Winters, Cornell's senior director of capital projects. 

“It's not only about inviting the public onto the campus to enjoy the physical space but about having them participate in the programing that will be provided,” Winters said.

Three of the 10 buildings slated to rise at the campus site are expected to be completed in the first phase, including a business incubator facility called "The Bridge" and a 26-story residential tower for graduate students and faculty with 350 apartments and 500 beds, according to school officials.

In May 2014, the community was split over the height of the residential building, with some saying it would block the view of the Queensboro Bridge.

Despite the concerns, Community Board 8 approved the plan at the time. The tower will only be "slightly taller" than buildings on the north side of the bridge and will make more room for public space because it will be built taller, not wider, Winters said.

It’ll also be more energy-efficient, consuming about 60 to 70 percent less energy than a typical high-rise building, said David Kramer, a principal at the firm developing the tower, Hudson Companies.

The Bridge incubator facility will provide work space to small start-ups and bigger companies at a cost, but roughly a third of the building will be used by Cornell students for group projects and meetings with industry leaders, according to Kate Bicknell, the senior vice president at Forest City Ratner Companies, which is developing The Bridge.

She would not say how much renting a space would cost.

"The goal here is that ... by the time students graduate, they've already had experience working with leaders who have companies and will have connections and the ability to stay and rent space in our co-working space," Winters said.

"We are hearing so much excitement about the access to talent this will create," Bicknell added. "When we talk to tech companies one of their challenges is finding talent and that New York hasn't had that type of access to talent as San Francisco has."

Cornell currently has roughly 150 students at its temporary campus located on the third floor of Google's Chelsea offices and plans for there to be 300 students for its first year at the new Roosevelt Island campus, Winters said. Once it opens, Cornell expects the campus to draw as many as 1,500 people daily and more than 5,000 each day once its campus is fully built in 2038, Winters said.