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Tech campus a magnet for new business

Cornell rendering courtesy of Kilograph

The planners behind the Cornell Technion campus, scheduled to open on Roosevelt Island in 2017, expect students to work closely with the university’s corporate partners.

So closely, in fact, that by the time the campus is complete in 2037 as much as 500,000 s/f of commercial office space is planned for corporate colocation.

“In a typical campus there are real barriers between business and academia — real physical walls,” Karen Backus of K. Backus & Associates, who is consulting on the project, told the audience at a CoreNet Global event last week. “Cornell intends to break those walls down.”

The first phase of construction, expected to commence once the campus has completed the city’s land use review process in the summer of 2013, will consist of four buildings, of which third-party private developers will build all but one.
A Request for Proposals for a master developer for the campus was issued in November, Backus said, and a winner is expected to be selected by the spring.

One of the buildings will be a 150,000 s/f “loft-like” office building, in which Cornell will take 50,000 s/f, Backus said. The development partner — whoever that ends up being — will lease the remaining 100,000 s/f, she said.

Possible tenants include “tech companies who want to co-locate with Cornell; large, existing companies who want a New York office; small ones who want to participate in the research going on at Cornell; operators of shared workspaces, like the Cambridge innovation center,” she said, adding that the hope is to attract a wide range of tenants. “In addition to tech companies per se, we also hope to attract businesses who serve the tech industry — venture capitalists, intellectual property attorneys and other types of advisors.”

One company that is already sharing space with the school is Google, which has leased space at 111 Eighth Avenue for the program to start training students for Masters of Engineering degrees in computer science while the campus is under construction, she said.
Other elements of the first phase of construction include residential building for students, faculty and staff, a 40,000 s/f conference center and 110-room hotel.

“Cornell’s ultimate aspiration is to become the destination for tech in New York City,” she said.

The campus buildings will be designed to produce as much energy as they consume, said Kyu-Jung Whang, vice president for facilities services at Cornell, making them the first “net-zero energy” buildings in the city.

The architectural firm Morphosis has prepared initial designs for the first academic building, which the university will develop itself, that include a canopy of solar panels extending over a courtyard. The buildings will all be angled slightly off of the center line of the island in order to face true south and maximize the efficiency of rooftop solar panels, he said.

The initial plan for the campus called for the buildings to be center around a pathway along the ridge at the middle of the island, with all building entrances 19 feet above sea level. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he said, that level may be increased to 20 feet, and infrastructure equipment will be located above the entry level.

“We believe that global warming is happening and the seas are rising and there are going to be more storms in the future,” he said. “It’s going to get worse and worse. That’s not a political statement, that’s a factual scientific statement.”

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