By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
DOWNTOWN — After four years of promises, plans were set yesterday to convert the derelict former Transit Authority headquarters opposite Metrotech into a high-tech education center.
"The transformation of 370 Jay St. into NYU’s applied science and engineering institute is a game changer for Downtown Brooklyn," said Alan Fishman, chair of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. "This takes the district’s resurgence to a new level and will position Downtown Brooklyn to rival any college town in the country."
When Borough President Marty Markowitz first joined other officials outside the mostly empty building in 2008, he said the scaffolding and peeling paint from the ceiling of its built-in subway station gave a negative impression to visitors to Downtown Brooklyn, an area on the upswing with the completion of the Metrotech campus, the success of the NY Marriott Brooklyn Bridge hotel and the construction of numerous residential high-rises.
Last year, NYU — which had recently absorbed Polytechnic University, located one block away from 370 Jay St. — submitted a plan to utilize the vintage-1950s building to a contest, sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to build a high-tech applied science center in New York City. A consortium led by Cornell University and Technion in Haifa won the competition with its plan to spend more than $2 billion on a campus on Roosevelt Island.
But at the same time that Bloomberg announced his selection, he hinted that there could be "several winners." Accordingly, Markowitz, other Downtown Brooklyn elected officials and organizations such as the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership kept the pressure on to keep NYU’s plan in play.
Yesterday, their efforts were brought to fruition when 14 speakers came to NYU-Polytechnic University to announce that the city had agreed to sponsor the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), at 370 Jay St. This would be a partnership between NYU and several other universities worldwide — City University of New York, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Toronto, University of Warwick and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay – as well as IBM and Cisco.
The school would accommodate approximately 530 graduate and doctoral students, as well as 50 full-time faculty and about 30 post-doctoral researchers, Bloomberg said. While the renovated building is not expected to be ready for use until 2017, classes are scheduled to begin next year at Metrotech.
IBM and Cisco will each provide $1 million a year, and four other founding corporate partners — Con Edison, National Grid, Seimens and Xerox — will each assist with $500,000 a year in cash and in-kind services.
NYU will be responsible for the $60 million that it will take to relocate NYC Transit and police department equipment within the building. A portion of the building will be demolished, and a six-story annex for lab space will be constructed.
Also announced yesterday was the choice of former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy and California Institute of Technology Provost Steven Koonin to lead the school. Although Koonin didn’t speak, Markowitz got a laugh when he said that the diminutive Koonin was "one of the few people with whom I can see eye to eye."
The overall mission of the school, explained NYU President John Sexton, will be to use technology to help solve the problems of today’s cities. "Fifty percent of all people in the world live in cities, and in 20 years that percentage will be 70 percent," he said.
Markowitz and Sexton had a very good rapport — "Not only am I a native Brooklynite, but my father and grandfather both ran the Jefferson Democratic Club, so I definitely understand the Brooklyn accent," Sexton said.
Others who spoke saw the new CUSP center as part of the overall redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn into what Markowitz called a "24-7 city" — and a college town to boot!
"Today, there are more students studying at schools in Downtown Brooklyn than there are in Cambridge!" said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
While the meeting was in progress, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the MTA Finance Committee had just approved the transfer of 370 Jay St. Everyone in the room cheered.