For the tech world, Cornell NYC Tech’s launch on Roosevelt Island in 2017 will mean an influx of tech experts, with approximately 280 faculty members and 2,750 graduate students. But many Roosevelt Island natives hope the tech campus will bring something else to the island: new business.
The Island may seem miniscule compared to surrounding landmasses, with only one major street—appropriately named “Main Street.” But the narrow island on the East River boasts a population of about 12,000. While many residents are there primarily for the short commute into Manhattan, a significant group of residents are part of the long time community on the island.
Alfonso DiCiocco hopes the campus’ arrival will lead to an increase in customers for his two businesses. DiCiocco has operated Nonno’s Foccaceria and the River Walk Bar and Grill near the F train stop since 2007, when he retired from the NYPD. He watched the island grow as an F train transit officer and says the island is “the best kept secret in the city.”
“It’s a positive,” he said of the tech campus. While he said some long time residents are concerned a population increase will lead to an increase in traffic and commute times, DiCiocco believes it will only benefit his businesses. “That’s a great problem,” he laughed. “Change is going to happen, and it’s going to affect everything in a positive way.”
Main Street Sweets employee Erin Jones echoed DiCiocco’s positive outlook. She has lived on the island for 18 years, and says despite some community doubts, the campus will benefit the island.
“With some of the residents, it may be a negative – we’re kind of a small town here so we’re used to knowing everybody,” said Jones, who works at Coach Scot’s Main Street Sweets. “But it will be positive, business-wise…. The hospitals are very segregated, but college students will roam.”
The new campus, which will be built on space previously occupied by the Goldwater Specialty Hospital, will take up over two million square feet at the south end of the island. It will be comprised of academic, corporate, and residential buildings, and will offer 2.5 acres of green space that will be open to the public, not just Tech Campus students and faculty.
Since the tech campus’ inception, Cornell has emphasized its desire to keep the campus open to the Island community. During a presentation to residents in October 2012, Skidmore Owings associate director Colin Koop assured residents the campus would open up the island.
“The goal is to create an open and inviting environment that beckons you inwards and encourages interactivity,” said Koop.
And Cornell officials have emphasized that those who utilize the campus will also be encouraged to engage themselves in the existing Island community.
“We are very excited for the Cornell Tech campus to take shape on Roosevelt Island,” said Cornell Tech Vice President Cathy Dove. “We’re working closely with our future neighbors and we fully expect the campus community and visitors to dine in local eateries and shop at local businesses.”
But some residents are skeptical the campus, expected to exceed $2 billion in operating costs over the 30 years it will take to complete the entire project, will benefit the community in the way Cornell officials promise. Frank Farance believes the campus will have a neutral, if not negative, effect on the island’s small businesses. For Farance, planning committee chair for the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, the greater issue will be the increase in rents many business owners and residents may see.
“The people on the campus really are not going to be strolling literally a half mile to a mile north to go get a slice of pizza,” said Farance. He believes students and faculty will utilize the tech campus’ services rather than contributing to local businesses.
“I think they think it’s going to be a goldmine here when Cornell gets here,” said Farance. Many landlords, he says, have already raised their rents.
For longtime resident Erin Jones, 2017 is a year she can look forward to. She sees the campus bringing positive growth to a community that is often resistant to change.
“I like to see new things come into the neighborhood,” said Jones. “We’ve been forgotten about for so long.”