President David Skorton touted the benefits of the University's agreement with Google to temporarily host the school’s new tech campus on Tuesday, saying the space will allow Cornell to quickly establish a physical presence in New York City while saving money on prime real estate.
“I think that the generosity and the foresight of the Google leadership to be a part of this movement to solidify and even further advance NYC’s role as a leader of the tech campus is a very smart move on the part of [Google CEO Larry Page],” Skorton said.
At a press conference on Monday, Page announced that the company would provide CornellNYC Tech with 22,000 square feet of its NYC headquarters for free. Students and faculty will use the space while the Roosevelt Island campus is under construction.
Skorton described the location of the company’s building — the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan — as a “hotbed” of technological development in NYC.
“[The agreement] will allow us immediately to have a launch of the campus that will have a presence in one of the high tech areas of NYC,” Skorton said. “So that’s number one — to be in one of the hotbeds of the tech sectors in NYC, which is to say to be one of the hotbeds anywhere.”
Skorton said that the agreement would also save the University money, which he said was a welcome relief after several years of budget cuts.
“At a time when we really deal with the revenue decreases of the recession, [Google’s donation] is a big contribution in saving us money on very, very excellent located real estate in NYC, including fantastic offices and space in the building that Google owns,” Skorton said.
The University will take over the space on July 1 and must be out in five-and-a-half years, by which time it expects the first building of the new campus will have been completed. Additionally, Google has offered Cornell the option of expanding from 22,000 square feet to 58,000 square feet — space that the University expects to use, according to Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of CornellNYC Tech.
“The current space will probably hold us for the next two years,” Huttenlocher said. He noted that when the campus’ first permanent building is completed in 2017, the school will have 150,000 square feet of space at its disposal.
A handful of graduate students and faculty members from the Ithaca campus will use the space this fall for seminars and workshops. New students will matriculate in fall 2013, although classes could start in January 2013 if the school is successful in quickly recruiting faculty, according to Huttenlocher.
Although he emphasized the many benefits of the Google agreement, Skorton acknowledged that there was “definitely a concern” about backlash from faculty over fostering such a close relationship with one company. Still, he said Cornell is “jumping in with both feet in this direction.”
Huttenlocher, defending the agreement, said that Google will not have the rights to any technology invented by Cornell faculty and students in its building. Additionally, he said that Cornell is looking to build strong ties with a “broad range of companies” — as opposed to just Google — to develop NYC’s technology sector.
“The leading tech companies in the country pretty much all have strong working relationships with Cornell,” Huttenlocher added.
Skorton and Huttenlocher also emphasized that Cornell will be one of a number of tenants occupying Google’s building. Although the agreement will place Cornell in Google’s building, it is by no means a formal partnership between the University and Google, Huttenlocher said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also supportive of the agreement, saying at the press conference that, “Google, as everybody knows, is one of the world's most innovative companies.”
Huttenlocher said the rent-free lease was valued at about $10 million. While Cornell also looked at other sites that were available for rent, Google’s building offered the kind of space the University sought, with high ceilings and open space that he hopes will foster collaboration.
“Good space — space that is appropriate to a tech startup-style of working — is not going to have the same kind of feel as a university,” Huttenlocher said. “It has a bullpen style of feel. It would be a challenge for us to find that kind of space for rent.”
The idea to let Cornell use space in Google’s headquarters grew out of “informal relationships” with Google executives, said Huttenlocher, who previously spent a summer as a visiting professor at Google.
Huttenlocher said that, when Cornell won the competition to build a tech campus in December, he reached out to a number of NYC tech leaders — among them, executives at Google’s NYC headquarters — to figure out how to get CornellNYC Tech off the ground as soon as possible.