Michael Bloomberg, the king-slash-mayor of New York City (will he increase term limits again to stay in his position?), has announced that Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will be transforming 11 acres on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island into a graduate school for technology. Classes will begin as early as next year and the first phase of construction on 300,000 square feet will be completed by 2017 and construction on 2 million square feet will be completed twenty years later.
Developing the land into a world-class graduate school will displace a hospital and some other facilities, but will generate $23 billion in economic activity and 20,000 construction, 8,000 continual operational jobs, and 30,000 jobs as a result of graduates’ activities according to Bloomberg.
A $150 million venture capital fund will provide resources to new start-ups affiliates with Cornell that promise to stay within New York City for at least three years.
With a world-class high-tech graduate program, New York City will become a tech start-up incubator, on par with Stanford University, who lost the bid for building a campus in New York City, and Silicon Valley.
Cornell’s bid for the land and the opportunity to transform New York City was assisted by a $350 million gift, anonymously given but later revealed to come from Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney. Feeney is a former Cornell student who co-founded Duty Free Shoppers Group and turned his wealth into a foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. With the foundation incorporated in Bermuda, its activities are not generally public knowledge, but its grants are on par with the Ford Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Chuck Feeney has accumulated significant wealth over his lifetime, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him. When in New York, he walks and rides the subway, though he’s not the only New York billionaire to mingle with the people. He rents rather than owns a house, having parted with seven houses in a divorce settlement, but renting in New York is not necessarily an indicator of frugality by itself. He doesn’t own a car and flies coach. Feeney reportedly wears a $15 watch. Not wanting money to consumer his life, even his ownership in the business he founded was transferred to a charitable organization. Perhaps having given away most of his fortune away, Feeney has no choice but to be frugal, but his approach to money seems to be similar to Steve Jobs, the quiet billionaire next door.
Assisted by the gift from the Atlantic Philanthropies, a pledge from Bloomberg for $100 million in infrastructure improvements to the Roosevelt Island land on which the university will build the campus. Cornell will also partner with the State University of New York and the City University of New York in some capacity.
This could be an exciting time for New York City. Residents of Roosevelt Island won’t be displaced by the new construction, but patients and employees of the hospital that currently exists on the property will be. Having a University’s high-tech graduate program will change the character of the island, which was formerly known as “Welfare Island” and was a depository for prisoners.
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published December 20, 2011.