Delay is over for Cornell Tech

At Last, A Hotel for Roosevelt Island

Updated 3 years ago Peter McCarthy
Tim Franzen of Graduate Hotels at the October, 2016, Task Force Meeting
Tim Franzen of Graduate Hotels at the October, 2016, Task Force Meeting
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

About the only thing not rolling out as planned in the early stages of building Cornell Tech was a deal for an on campus hotel, but the wait is over. As the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition learned this week at its quarterly meeting with the Cornell Task Force, a deal finally got done.

It's Here, Almost

Of importance to readers here is that, yes, there will be rooms, out of 195 on 17 floors, ready for visitors not linked to the campus. If you've struggled finding sleeping quarters when relatives and friends descend on Roosevelt Island, you'll soon be able to set them up in a themed hotel on an artfully architected campus.

In answer to your likely next question, yes,  the room rates will be consistent with the rest of New York, including the dizzyingly high taxes which pile up to around 15%, give or take.

Aligning Campus and Community

As Cornell Tech's Andrew Winter explained before turning things over to developers, finding a partner that shared the university's values for accommodations that fit Roosevelt Island and the campus was more difficult than expected. 

Signed on for developing and managing the hotel and its connected conference center is Graduate Hotels, an organization specializing in facilities oriented around universities and the communities in which they belong. They will be partnered with A. J. Capital Partners, which engagingly describes itself as "...a dynamic organization of counter-culture hospitality and real estate investors who acquire, develop and design transformative real estate."

Counter-culture hospitality? If you're like me, you're probably a little puzzled by that one, but the building plans look promising enough, we can wait for insight. 

Graduate Hotel's Tim Franzen stepped through a slide show demonstrating how his company thrives at developing properties celebrating the union of town and gown. Noting Judy Berdy's leadership of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, Franzen said he was eager to get to know her.

The reasons are clear.

"We want our hotels to be vibrant social spaces, like a community living room," he said.

What his team will look for from Berdy and others is guidance about Roosevelt Island's primary stories. What's the community all about, and how did it get here? This jibes perfectly with Cornell's commitment to be more than a visitor or cloistered campus.

When you visit the new hotel, you will be as aware of the community as you are of the university serving as an integral part of it.

Making assumptions from what Graduate Hotels has done in places like Athens, Tempe and Ann Arbor, you're going to see a lobby with historical artifacts - think Blackwell House, the Tram and Good Shepherd Plaza - that honor roots that run deep.

Franzen already knows that Mae West was a guest of the city on this island, so we may see a taste of the quirkiness that's indelible in much of our history.

Contrasted with more traditional entrances, the hotel's lobby will be welcoming. Graduate Hotels wants people to stay and socialize, not simply pass through, traipsing along behind bellhops and coming back to look for cabs. 

"Lobbies have soft seating," Franzen explained, "lots of tables and places to congregate."

And More

While much remains to be settled in a design phase that will consume much of the next year, Franzen said there will be an restaurant/cafe, open to the public, that serves three meals a day.

First along the road where Main Street relaxes into the campus, the hotel will be connected to the Verizon Executive Education Center, a 36,000 square foot classroom and conference facility.

Graduate Hotels anticipates it becoming a "magnet for New York City tech innovation." Groups will gather in flexible spaces, both large and intimate, including a 300 person hall, some to sit for classes, others to conference on specialized topics.

In answer to a question from RICC member Lynne Shinozaki, the hotel/education center complex will look for ways to respond to a local need for free or inexpensive meeting places.

Norway Comes to America

For architects, Graduate Hotels selected Snøhetta, a Norwegian company with an international reputation for landscape as well as building design.

According to Snøbetta's website: "Our work strives to enhance our sense of place, identity and relationship to others and the physical spaces we inhabit, whether feral or human-made. Museums, markets, reindeer observatories, landscapes and dollhouses get the same care and attention to purpose."

If they can work amicably with reindeer observatories and dollhouses, they probably have a fair chance of succeeding with Roosevelt Island.

Presenting for Snøhetta, Michael Cotten demonstrated how they expect its design to fit in with the look and feel of the campus, relaxed, lots of trees and grass, subtle accents welcoming without jarring.

If all necessary approvals from the city are won efficiently, the hotel and conference center's design phase should yield to construction next summer and a targeted opening in the summer of 2018, completing the first stage of Cornell Tech's physical development. 

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