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Governors Island to Be Site of $700 Million Climate Campus

ByTeam BB

Apr 24, 2023

In the two decades since the federal government turned over control of Governors Island to New York City, city officials have sought an innovative way to use the 172-acre patch of land with stunning views of Lower Manhattan.

They have finally come up with an answer. On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams plans to announce a $700 million campus dedicated to finding solutions to address the climate crisis.

The city chose a consortium led by Stony Brook University to transform one of the island’s last big chunks of developable land into a 400,000-square-foot hub called the “New York Climate Exchange.” The campus, which will focus on researching climate solutions and training for green jobs, is expected to open in 2028.

The climate hub will serve as a “living laboratory” that features resilient design, with renderings showing shiny sloped buildings covered in vegetation that are intended to evoke the hills of Governors Island. It will include two newly constructed classroom and research buildings on three acres of land that are currently undeveloped and will also make use of some historic buildings on the island. The existing public amenities will remain.

“It will truly be the first of its kind model for advancing research to accelerate the deployment of climate solutions that will help us with what I believe is the greatest threat of our time — the climate crisis,” Maria Torres-Springer, the city’s deputy mayor for economic and work force development, said in an interview.

The idea for building a climate hub on Governors Island had been circulating for years. The island — once an outpost of the Dutch West India Company and a Civil War prison for Confederate soldiers — has become one of the city’s public space marvels, with hammocks, vegetable gardens, vegan food trucks and the city’s longest slide.

Not everyone was in favor of the project. Last December, a judge dismissed a legal challenge from a coalition that argued the new buildings would wreck the serenity of the island An appeal is possible, but officials said they were confident that the city would win the case.

The car-free island is only reachable by ferry, and leaders have acknowledged that transportation was the “elephant in the room” for the project. As part of the new plan, the Trust for Governors Island will provide ferry service every 15 minutes, with a hybrid electric ferry expected to start service next summer. The campus will also include student and faculty housing and university hotel rooms.

The project follows a similar approach to the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, a graduate school that opened in 2017 and was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. But city officials refer to the Governors Island campus as “Cornell Tech on steroids.”

The campus will create more than 2,200 jobs, city officials said, and eventually serve 600 college students, 6,000 job trainees and 250 faculty members and researchers every year.

Last week, Mr. Adams announced his broader environmental plan for the city, calling for a series of policies, including allowing the city to buy out residents who have homes in particularly flood- prone areas.

His plan aims to reduce emissions tied to city food purchases by 33 percent by 2030; establish citywide composting by the end of 2024; install solar panels and green roofs on all viable city-owned property by 2035; and protect New Yorkers from extreme heat by developing a “maximum summer indoor temperature policy” by 2030.

The city’s first environmental blueprint, released by Mr. Bloomberg in 2007, included plans for the nation’s first congestion pricing scheme, which is still a work in progress, and the planting of one million trees, which the city accomplished.

In 2003, the federal government turned over control of Governors Island to New York City under the condition that it not be used for commercial housing development. The new climate hub required a rezoning by the City Council in 2021, and three finalists were named last year as part of a global competition to lead the project.

Construction is expected to start in 2025. The winning consortium includes IBM, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pace University, Pratt Institute and Boston Consulting Group, in addition to Stony Brook University, which is part of the State University of New York system.

About $150 million in funding will come from previously allocated city capital funding, city officials said. Another $100 million is from the Simons Foundation, founded by the billionaire James H. Simons, and $50 million will be contributed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by Mr. Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of rebuilding the island. The consortium will raise another $400 million and cover operational costs, and there will be no additional cost to New Yorkers, city officials said.

Maurie McInnis, president of Stony Brook University, said that the university had the “vision, expertise and commitment” to anchor the project. She praised the consortium model, which includes nonprofits and businesses.

“There’s no one entity that’s going to be able to solve climate change and come up with the solutions we’re all going to need on its own,” she said.

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