Article in Tech Industry, Technology, New York City categories.

The Revived Saga of NYC’s Tech Campus

  Remember Applied Sciences NYC? Mayor Bloomberg’s tech initiative, which sought to develop and intertwine the city’s tech and university industries, made waves last December…

NYU Applied Sciences Campus

Remember Applied Sciences NYC? Mayor Bloomberg’s tech initiative, which sought to develop and intertwine the city’s tech and university industries, made waves last December when five major universities bid furiously for an engineering and applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. Cornell and Stanford, the last two standing, raised journalists’ red flags when the former abruptly dropped out of the running — leaving Cornell to, just an hour later, announce that it already had $350 million in funding for its now-unchallenged bid. (The mock-up photos of the Cornell campus, nicknamed “Silicon Island,” do look excellent.)

The campus is a pet project of Bloomberg’s; he wants to promote New York as an engineering hotbed along the lines of Cambridge or Stanford. Tech campuses produce highly educated recent graduates seeking to build a booming industry — and New York wants to retain those grads. The city’s official rhetoric surrounding the campus is jargon-y and elusive: “Innovation is critical to the City’s economic future, and with these strong proposals, we are now well-positioned for a quantum leap in our competitiveness,” said the Economic Development President Seth Pinsky.

What that means, of course, is money. Pinsky later noted that Cornell’s new campus would “nearly double the number of engineers graduating every year,” reported Betabeat — and those graduates would be more likely to remain in the city and help develop its already-strong tech industry.

Given the heightened interest among bidders in the initial round, Bloomberg was (and is) keen to bring more than just the one project to fruition. A primary contender, NYU, has reportedly been in negotiations with the MTA for its 370 Jay Street property in Downtown Brooklyn since before the Cornell deal was announced. The MTA, ever the cunning broker, kept raising prices on the location, and a rapid resolution seemed unlikely.

Yesterday, April 23, though, NYU-Poly and the Mayor announced their partnership in creating an applied sciences center at 370 Jay Street, turning the old transit hub into a “Center for Urban Science and Progress.” The further development represents New York’s shift from traditional universities to “hubs,” as Bloomberg identified them upon the Cornell deal: flexible education collectives where multiple universities and faculties can attract, cultivate, and retain talent.

These structures sound a lot more like tech incubators than traditional universities. General Assembly, for instance, where Fueled got its start, bills itself as a “campus” and community, offering “a pragmatic and multi-disciplinary education” and “democratizing entrepreneurship.” The benefits of the NYU venture won’t be limited to academics and the technically savvy, though: the city reports that the project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 900 permanent ones, revitalizing Downtown Brooklyn to boot.

The scope of the project seems to be expanding almost exponentially, and it’s clear that Bloomberg doesn’t want the tech industry’s development to slow anytime soon. He announced the city’s intentions to build yet more tech campuses, noting that other universities — Carnegie Mellon, the University of Warwich, and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay — were all partners in the NYU deal, making it effectively an international venture. The city expects, or hopes, that the campus will give rise to 200 companies over the next three decades.

The city’s intense push to build these campuses is something of a rebranding effort, though not one that lacks substance. The announcement had a distinctly competitive air, with city officials pointedly referencing Cambridge and the Valley, somewhat prematurely declaring New York as their successor in technological innovation. It’s a strong sentiment for what is as of yet effectively a real-estate deal.

Any project that promotes the New York tech industry, though, is one we can’t be anything but excited about. We’re looking forward to seeing how the deal develops — and how many more campuses start popping up around the five boroughs.

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