Next on Bloomberg’s Political Bucket List: Dream School for Geeks

John Farley and Laura van Straaten |
Updated: June 21, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a dream for New York City: to one day rival Silicon Valley as the center for technological innovation. And that may be doable — the city has replaced Boston as the second largest technology hub in the nation, according to a new report Thursday.

The mayor’s goal of building a top-10 engineering campus in the city — the field critical to technology development — by 2014 has been high on his  political bucket list since he first introduced the idea in December, 2010. And at Crain’s “Future of New York City” conference on Tuesday morning, Bloomberg announced the city will give $100 million and city-owned land to the university, consortium of universities or entrepreneur that comes up with the best proposal to build the mayor’s dream school. Bloomberg then presented a request for proposals for Applied Sciences NYC — the title of the initiative — and later tweeted, “Today we launched @AppSciNYC, one of the most promising #economic development initiatives in NYC’s long history.”

Cornell University President Dr. David Skorton is campaigning to build New York City's high-tech engineering campus. Cornell currently has eight facilities in Manhattan. AP/Kevin Rivoli.

Have applied science skills, will move. Bloomberg has invoked New York’s long legacy of inviting immigrants to refuel the city’s creative and financial capital — this time in the form of the global academic community. The ultimate goal is to form a campus that will create as many tech start-ups as possible, while using the fewest possible city resources.



When Bloomberg first introduced the idea of a high-tech campus last year, the city received 18 submissions involving 27 universities — including offers from Cornell, Stanford, NYU and Columbia and multiple international schools, reported the New York Times. Several New York City universities, including NYU, were frustrated that the mayor did not first approach local institutions with offers to expand their currently existing programs.

Problems down the line? Critics cite two major problems with the plan. The first concern is that a campus focused exclusively on technology could drain talent and money from similar programs at city universities like Columbia and NYU, reported Christian Science Monitor. Other critics outside New York City, like MIT professor Edward Roberts, say that a campus of this magnitude will require decades of planning and funding before the city starts to see its tangible benefits. Thus, the school could become a major burden for Bloomberg’s successor, Edwards told Christian Science Monitor. Despite the political and fiscal fiasco the campus might become, Bloomberg is providing considerable incentives for whoever can build what he hopes will be a crucial part of his mayoral legacy.

Building a bigger trophy. As part of the official request for proposals, the city is sweetening the deal by offering the field of competing universities up to 2-million-square-feet of city-owned land on either Roosevelt Island, Brooklyn Navy Yard or Governor’s Island (Staten Island was on the list, but did not make the final cut). They will also get $100 million for infrastructure needs, Bloomberg said at Tuesday’s event.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation released an economic impact analysis, which suggests the engineering and applied sciences campus could produce $6 billion in revenue, create 22,000 permanent and temporary jobs and foster the creation of 400 new companies over the next 35 years.

The proposals are due October 28, 2011, and will be judged on their perceived ability to create revenue, while focusing on environmental sustainability and providing minimal disruption to the communities surrounding the campus. City officials said at the event that they intend to select the winning proposal by the end of this year.

The initial front-running universities included Stanford, Cornell and Technion — part of the Israel Institute of Technology — according to reports. But Bloomberg insisted today that the request for proposals is not limited to the universities that have already been mentioned. “#NYC is open to any person with any dream, any entrepreneur with any idea, and any university with any proposal,” read a tweet from @Mike Bloomberg.

Cornell fights for the lead. Stanford University has been considered a formidable contender  since the school first expressed interest.  On Tuesday at the Crain’s event, Cornell appeared to be the only university working the room, having bought a table.

“It’s not new for us to be operating in New York,” Cornell University President Dr. David J. Skorton told MetroFocus, referencing the eight facilities Cornell already operates in Manhattan, including Cornell Financial Engineering Manhattan, Architecture Art and Planning and Weill Cornell School of Medical Sciences.

David J. Skorton pitches his plan for Cornell’s New York City Tech Campus. Video courtesy of Cornell University.

“We’ve been in New York City a long time, so this proposal is about a measure of scale to leverage what we’ve already been doing in the city in a bigger way,” added Skorton.

Skorton said Cornell’s play would be for a graduate-only campus that offered master’s and doctorate degrees, “because you get more bang for the buck by only focusing on graduate education.”

He added that Cornell’s plans call for a “complete campus, not an extension,” which would  distinguish it from programs they already operate in New York, like their architecture program. In that program, many students spend time in New York City for academic research, but the bulk of the educational training takes place on Cornell’s sprawling 745-acre campus in Ithaca, N.Y.

“The mayor thinks big about this,” said Skorton. “He’s not just thinking about the next 200 days after, or whatever is left in his term,” he added, suggesting that Bloomberg’s plan to make the dream school a reality is a key part of his mayoral legacy.

©2021 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489