As reported by basically everyone, Stanford has withdrawn its bid to construct a science and engineering campus in New York as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to reinvigorate the city’s reputation as a technology hub. Proposals from Columbia, Cornell, NYU, and Carnegie Mellon are still under consideration. Originally considered a front-runner in the competition, Stanford claims to have withdrawn due to an inability for the school and city to “reach an agreement on a number of points, including whether the school could withdraw from the project without penalties” and the decision was “partly a result of the different cultures and expectations of a private university and a major city,” according to a Bloomberg source.
We reported on the announcement that Columbia had made it to the Mayor’s “short list” of proposals a few weeks back. In their December issue the Blue & White examines in-depth the impact of Columbia’s plan, which conveniently fits into the grand Manhattanville strategy. Look out for the print magazine on campus next week!
From the Issue: Bloomberg Means Business, Again
“We have presidential candidates who don’t even believe in science… it’s mind-boggling!” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg exclaimed at a recent international economic forum on Columbia’s campus. Science has certainly been on Bloomberg’s mind of late (not to mention for most of his life—he did, after all, make his name as a tech entrepreneur before it was cool). After his early-morning eviction of Zuccotti Park, his most publicized crusade over the past few months aims to reinvent New York as the next Silicon Valley. The mayor has called for universities all over the world to submit proposals for new tech campuses within the city.
Bloomberg extended the invitation on July 19th, promising free city land and $100 million in funding to the winning plan. The mayor speculated enthusias- tically that the innovation (and the further innovation it sparks) could bring the city $6 billion in economic activity, and somewhere around 400 new companies with 22,000 new permanent jobs—what he called a “real game changer for this city.”
When the deadline for submissions arrived just three months later, the mayor’s office had received seven bids from a variety of global collaborations: Stanford, in partnership with the City College of New York, and Cornell, together with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, chose Roosevelt Island as the site of their future campuses. Carnegie Mellon University teamed with Steiner Studios, a video pro- duction facility, in a bid for land in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Amity University, based in India, submitted a solo proposal and selected Governor’s Island as a potential site. NYU joined five other schools—the University of Toronto, University of Warwick, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, City University of New York, and Carnegie Mellon—proposing to construct a cam- pus in Downtown Brooklyn. The New York Genome Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Rockefeller University, and SUNY Stony Brook put forth a bid for a campus in Midtown Manhattan. Columbia conveniently integrated its proposal into its existing Manhattanville expansion plans.
The projects vary widely in both purpose and scale. The largest, Cornell’s requested 2.1 million sq ft, is five times larger than NYU’s smallest submission. Columbia falls neatly near the middle with a proposed 1.1 million sq ft. Though the mayor has only guaran- teed $100 million in funding, the proposals have made it clear that the interested parties plan to make the most of the city’s land: both Cornell’s and Stanford’s proposals carry price tags above $2 billion. The mayor delighted in the 10,000-plus pages of proposals, calling them “stronger than anything we could have possibly expected.” A final decision is expected this January, though Bloomberg insisted in early November that there was no “one front runner,” even hinting at the possibility that more than one proposal may get the green light.
Columbia’s bid is a unique case, not only because it forewent use of the original three city plots pro- posed by Bloomberg (Roosevelt Island, Governor’s Island, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard) and neglected to partner with another institution, but also because the proposal is actually for five separate entities. A series of centers would constitute the hypothetical Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering: Smart Cities, New Media, Health Analytics, Cybersecurity, and Financial Analytics. These areas of focus reflect Columbia’s strengths in media, healthcare, and finance while expressing a clear commitment to interdisciplinary study. The expansion has more of a NoCo flavor than a Mudd one. According to Nate Levick, SEAS ‘12 and ESC president, “The proposed ‘Data Sciences’ center will have incredible versatility and multi-disciplinarity (a word I just created), and those abilities will undoubtedly see use outside Engineering school—the idea is to bolster Columbia’s technological presence as a whole.”
The proposal spends significant time touting the accomplishments of Columbia’s engineers in line with the university’s recent efforts to rebrand itself as a major research institution. The plan’s strength lies in preexisting progress on Manhattanville construction, and its emphasis on entrepreneurship and job creation. To date, Columbia takes credit for 4,000 inventions, 1,800 patents, 500 licenses, and the creation of 128 new companies (81 of them still active).
An advisory committee has been formed by the city to help review the proposals, and the Economic Development Corporation and City Council will undoubtedly offer their opinions, but the final say will likely come from Bloomberg alone, according to conversations the New York Times has had with city government officials. Each sub- mission will be given a grade, which breaks down to 40 percent for economic impact and feasibility, 40 percent for the qualifications and record of the applicant(s), and 20 percent for how well the new establishment would be integrated with the city. Stanford and Cornell have received the most media buzz, but Columbia is in a strong position, particularly if the mayor should elect to award funding to multiple proposals.
Speaking at MIT the week the magazine went to print, Bloomberg stated that, “I think we’ve told three [teams] that they’re not going to make it and that we’re working with the last four,” though he quickly back- tracked and reportedly told the New York Daily News that in fact only two of the seven proposals have been eliminated. NYDN sources claim that the five schools still in the running are Cornell, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, and NYU. According to Levick, the Dean of SEAS Feniosky Peña-Mora con- firmed that our proposal “has indeed made it to the ‘short list’ of candidates.” Should this be the case, Columbia’s odds are favorable, as both Stanford and Cornell want to build on Roosevelt Island and thus cannot both be chosen if Bloomberg selects two proposals, essentially giving Columbia a 50-50 shot at the prize.
A rival elite institution in New York City could put significant pressure on Columbia, pushing it to dedicate more resources to strengthen- ing its own engineering programs. It is likely that construction of the Institute for Data Sciences would go ahead even if Columbia’s proposal is rejected, but Bloomberg’s focus stretches beyond making or breaking ties with prestigious universities. At a press conference in July, the mayor expressed a desire for New York to become the “world capital of technological innovation,” starting with a new tech campus. Much has been made of various unsuccessful efforts to incubate a new NorCal in other climes; even if NYC boasts a culture of sleepless programmers, high property costs remain a roadblock. Editorials in the Times and New York Magazine have argued that you cannot simply force Silicon Valley out of the ground, and that municipal funds would perhaps be better spent on the cultivation of a stronger community and infrastructure for engineers and researchers already working in the Big Apple. Even if the chances of New York becoming an innovators’ paradise are slim, shifting job markets and the growing demand of data analytics would make a science center within Manhattanville a logical and desirable addition. With the recent announcement of a Facebook office in New York, it seems as if, despite skepticism, Bloomberg could be onto something. Even if Columbia doesn’t make the final cut, we’re already sitting on enough real estate to keep up with any newcomers. Just please don’t let it be NYU.
by Brian Wagner