Stanford University’s ambitious bid to build a New York City campus came to a sudden stop, when the university abruptly withdrew from the competition. In a startling announcement, President John Hennessy said the university and the city “could not find a way to realize our mutual goals.”
The university was considered a front-runner for the graduate school in applied sciences and engineering, a plan conceived by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to bolster the region’s tech talent and catalyze a second Silicon Valley.
Stanford did not explain the impasse, announced on the day Cornell University celebrated a $350 million anonymous gift to support its New York City campus bid with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Some insiders said Stanford was frustrated by the city’s attempts to negotiate new terms. Others said the city’s recent push for more money might have stretched Stanford beyond its comfort zone. Still others said Stanford may have dropped its bid because it believed that the other top competitor, the Cornell-Technion effort, “was a lock” and wanted to save face.
Stanford’s proposal — more than 600 pages long and costing about $1 million — had been bolstered by a major publicity campaign using Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, among others, to tout the plan.
Hennessy, a Long Island native, was a champion of the project from the beginning, calling it a “high-risk, high-reward” venture that could be “transformative” for both Stanford and the city.
Stanford’s team was still negotiating with New York, according to spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. University leaders and the Stanford Board of Trustees concluded, after several weeks of negotiations, “that it would not be in the best interests of the university to continue to pursue the opportunity.”
“The university could not be certain that it could proceed in a way that ensured the success of the campus,” a university statement said.
The city is offering a free long-term lease and up to $100 million in taxpayer funds to a university or a group of universities willing to build an engineering or tech campus within the five boroughs.
Stanford’s proposal outlined a $2.5 billion campus, built on Roosevelt Island over three decades, that would link the school to a global center of finance, fashion, art and business. It would have housed more than 200 faculty members and 2,000 students.
Only last week, Bloomberg boasted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that “Stanford is desperate to do it — I’m not exaggerating.”
New York media bemoaned the loss. “Well, that’s a shame! … Apparently, they weren’t that desperate,” wrote Garth Johnston on the popular city website Gothamist. The Wall Street Journal’s blog called the news “a blow to the Bloomberg administration’s contest.”
The city didn’t respond directly to the news. Julie Wood, city deputy press secretary, issued this statement: “This competition is about changing the future of the city’s economy, and we are thrilled that we have a number of proposals that we believe will do exactly that. We are in serious negotiations with several of the other applicants, each of whom has a game-changing project queued up.”
Stanford’s exit boosts the chances for the Cornell-Technion plan. Three other universities are also still in the running: Columbia, Carnegie Mellon and New York University.
In October, Hennessy had cautioned that unless Stanford could get guarantees that it could build what it needed to build, plans would be abandoned. There were also concerns that post-Bloomberg administrations might try to change the terms of the project. “If we can’t get the entitlement,” assuring free-and-clear permission to build, “we are not going to be trapped into doing something,” he said.
Students and faculty members also had reservations. In a student poll by the Stanford Daily, 50 percent opposed and 39 percent favored the New York City entry. Faculty members were largely supportive, but worried that the effort could distract from the Palo Alto campus. Some warned that the politics of New York City land-use plans and permits were far more daunting and unpredictable than those in Santa Clara County.
“Stanford put forward an ambitious and serious proposal and worked hard to see that vision fulfilled,” Hennessy said in a statement. “Great universities need to continue to take risks, to innovate and to explore new opportunities where we can make contributions to supporting economic growth and expanding knowledge.