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Behind the Scenes of Cornell Tech's Construction with Forest City Ratner's Kate Bicknell

The buzz has been building for Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus since Cornell and its academic partner, the Israeli tech university Technion, won a bid from the city in 2011. Now, steel’s coming out of the ground and Forest City Ratner’s Kate Bicknell recently gave us a tour.

Kate says nothing like Cornell Tech has been done before. Partnerships with universities and the private sector to spur the tech industry have been done, like University Park at MIT, but according to Kate, there’s never been a whole campus conceived with this aim from the ground up.

The first of two phases, set to open in mid-2017, has three parts: The Bloomberg Center, which will house Cornell’s academic operations; a student and faculty residence hall that’ll be the first residential high-rise in the world built to Passive House standards; and The Bridge, a commercial office building aiming to attract tenants looking to be right in the innovation mix the new campus will create.

There’ll be a second phase that’ll include a hotel and more academic buildings, Kate says, to be built on a timetable determined by how things go when Phase 1 opens.

Oxford's Kate Bicknell, then a senior vice president at Forest City Ratner, touring the Cornell Tech construction site in 2015

Forest City Ratner’s role is twofold: to build The Bridge and to manage the development of the whole site. (The Hudson Cos is developing the residential building.)

The concept for The Bridge is all about openness and transparency, Kate says. There’ll be glass everywhere, both on the interior and exterior, and two cantilevered extensions (one is shown above, with temporary support beams under it) mean each the top three floors will actually have about 5k SF more space than the floor beneath them. Kate tells us the cantilevers are part of the whole visual idea of the space: they point outward, and upward, gesturing towards the wider world outside of tiny Roosevelt Island, with one “pointing” toward LIC and the other toward Manhattan.

Cornell’s taking 89k SF in The Bridge, or about a third of the building’s total RSF. Kate says the tenant mix will include a co-working provider and a mix of tech companies. Rents on the space aren’t determined yet, but Roosevelt island’s sandwiched between LIC, where average asking rents came to $33/SF in Q3 according to a report by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, and Midtown, where the report puts the average ask for Class-A space at $83/SF. (Snapped: a steel delivery arrived the day of our visit.)