With flagging retail and limited transportation, Roosevelt Island has high hopes for coming tech campus
By the end of next year, the outlines for the city’s much-touted high-tech campus will begin to appear on Roosevelt Island, a two-mile-long spit of land in the middle of the East River.
But before that can happen, the two institutes building the school—Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology—will need to build a curriculum, hire faculty, begin classes in temporary locations elsewhere and, perhaps most important, attempt to establish a relationship with residents of the so-called “small town” of Roosevelt Island.
Toward that end, Cornell officials are planning an April town hall meeting to present local residents their vision for the future. That vision is filled with sloped, glittery buildings, thousands of friendly geek neighbors, maybe the occasional river ferry and a less isolated community better integrated into the rest of New York.
Cathy Dove, newly named vice president of the tech campus and current associate dean of Cornell’s College of Engineering, said there was no time like the present to begin that process.
“You’re talking to the newest community member,” said Dove, who just moved to the Riverwalk building at the island’s southern end—though at first she mistakenly referred to her new home as “Rivergate.”
Dan Huttenlocher, the tech school’s new dean, said community outreach was an essential piece of the entire $2 billion development.
“Community relations is extremely important to us,” Huttenlocher said. “It’s something we view as part of our institutional DNA.”
Like all development projects big and small, the tech campus will need to traverse the city’s land-use process, where community board members and local officials will vet the project and determine its environmental impact.
Residents say they have many questions for Cornell and Technion, such as how much money the institutes are willing to spend to upgrade infrastructure and what they will do to help revitalize the island’s flagging retail sector. Most residents are excited to welcome their new neighbors but are wary about how the campus will affect their self-described “small town” community.
“When the decision was made, it caught a lot of us off guard,” said Matthew Katz, president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. “Some people are very enthusiastic. Some people are concerned about how it will change the texture on Roosevelt Island.”
The island has one subway stop, one road and one bridge (which, strangely enough, leads to Queens, even though the island is technically part of Manhattan). Along Main Street, many stores are boarded up, and those that are still open fear going out of business. The only pizza shop just closed, as did the fish store. The island’s sole senior center may be next on the chopping block.
Against this backdrop of change and excitement, a ministruggle between some residents and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which essentially serves as the community’s local government, has added a hint of drama.
RIOC’s board is appointed by leaders in Albany, based on recommendations from island residents. Katz and others are fighting for direct elections of the agency’s board of directors after one board member was dismissed by the Cuomo administration and replaced by a non-island resident.
Katz hopes the new development and the accompanying uptick in the island’s economy and population will pressure RIOC and the governor to allow for a more democratic system.
“We’re not getting any results,” Katz said. “I’m scared to death. We’re desperate for some control.”
Leslie Torres, president of RIOC, said the current law governing board appointments would need to change in order for residents to directly elect those members.
“The residents are vey active politically,” Torres said. “The law right now is the governor appoints everybody.…I think the key is to have people from all walks on the island represented on the board.”
Assemblyman Micah Kellner is carrying a bill that would change the law, but for him the main concern is the safe transfer of the 866 patients who still reside in the 80-year-old Goldwater Hospital, which will be torn down for the new campus.
In July 2010, the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation announced plans to relocate some of its Goldwater staff and patients from Roosevelt Island to the former North General Hospital campus in Harlem.
Gouverneur Healthcare Services in Manhattan, McKinney Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn and Sea View Hospital on Staten Island will also serve as relocation destinations for the patients and staff at Goldwater.
“These are people who are Roosevelt Islanders, just like everyone else on the island,” Kellner said. “So that’s the first step.”
Another concern for Kellner is infrastructure improvement. Right now, many of the island’s buildings use electrical heating, which he says is expensive and inefficient. Kellner says he hopes Cornell, Technion and the city will spend some of the promised $2 billion to upgrade the island’s power grid, as well as seek other ways to integrate the campus into the rest of the community.
Fernando Martinez, RIOC’s vice president for operations, said the island’s utilities, including its telecommunication lines, will have to be upsized to accommodate the Cornell campus.
Even though the first building on the tech campus is not slated to open until 2017, change is already visible on Roosevelt Island. Last August, two real estate companies, Hudson and Related, took over much of the retail on Main Street. The firms plan on building three additional buildings in addition to the six they have already constructed.
David Kramer, principal at the Hudson Companies, said that the tech campus may be far off, but a new Roosevelt Island is already beginning to shine through.
“Roosevelt Island has always been a blind spot for the city,” Kramer said. “To the extent that the city is now talking about the tech campus on Roosevelt Island, it has a huge impact long before the campus arrives. There’s more excitement. It makes some people view the neighborhood as more legitimate now that Cornell is coming.”
Read more of our coverage about the Roosevelt Island tech campus:
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, Andrew J. Hawkins, applied-sciences, Cathy Dove, Cornell, Dan Huttenlocher, David Kramer, Fernando Martinez, Goldwater Hospital, hudson, Infrastructure, Leslie Torres, Matthew Katz, Micah Kellner, Related, Riverwalk, Roosevelt Island, Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, Roosevelt Island Residents Association, tech campus, technion, utilities
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