By Raanan Geberer
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — “Let’s give the city three cheers for the plans for the city’s new applied science campus on Roosevelt Island, but we’ll give it five cheers when the city decides to support NYU and Polytechnic’s proposal for an applied science campus here.”
These words, spoken by Assemblywoman Joan Milllman (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Heights) in front of the nearly vacant former MTA headquarters building at 370 Jay St., captured the mood of Wednesday’s press conference.
Sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan) and Borough President Marty Markowitz, the rally was called to emphasize that the NYU-Polytechnic proposal, which would use the Jay Street building for classrooms and offices, is still on the table.
The deteriorating 13-story building at 370 Jay St. is something of a mystery. The Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit) moved most of its offices out during the late 1990s and now, according to the MTA, the building is mainly used to house and maintain electronic switching equipment.
Approaching the building from the north, this reporter saw at least three offices that had lights on, although most of the windows were unlit. During the half-hour press conference, about three people dressed in street clothes entered the building and about four came out. A doorman wouldn’t answer any questions about what’s located inside the building.
One thing is clear — Markowitz and other officials, dismayed at 370 Jay St.’s rundown appearance, have repeatedly urged the MTA to sell it. Several months ago, the MTA finally decided to do just that. It was around that time that NYU and Polytechnic (which itself is a division of NYU) decided to center their proposal for an applied science center around the building.
This week, the city announced that a proposal by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology had been selected as the first winner in the Applied Sciences NYC competition. However, Mayor Bloomberg stressed that the city would still consider the other proposals.
In addition to offering classes and degrees, the NYU-Polytechnic applied science center would serve as an incubator for tech-based businesses and serve as an outreach center to local high school students who have an interest in science and technology.
Markowitz emphasized that Brooklyn, which “has more college students than Cambridge, Massachusetts” and which GQ magazine has named “the coolest city in the United States,” would be a perfect location for such a university.
Squadron said that in contrast to the Cornell-Technion plan, which will basically require a new campus to be built on Roosevelt Island, the NYU-Polytechnic proposal, because 370 Jay St. is already a viable office building, could be done “for pennies on the dollar.” (Renderings of the proposal from NYU make it clear that the building’s façade will be redesigned, although the inside of the building would basically be left intact.)
Squadron also said that if it is approved and fully funded, the applied science center would be part of an axis of technology involving the school itself, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and DUMBO. The Navy Yard and DUMBO are both home to many small high-tech startup firms.
Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights/Crown Heights) said she supports the NYU-Polytechnic proposal because Brooklyn should be about more than “basketball and burgers” — it should also be about “books and brains.” By basketball, James almost certainly meant the Nets in their new home, the Barclays Center, the construction of which she opposed. By burgers, she may have meant the Shake Shack, which opened on Tuesday and which is totally non-controversial.
Seconds later, however, she said, “With basketball, burgers, books, brains and BIDs [business improvement districts], how can Downtown Brooklyn lose?”
Alexandra Sica, executive director of the Dumbo Improvement District, brought along three owners of high-tech small businesses. One of them, Zaphrin Lasker, CEO of PontiFlex, said he supports the idea partially because he, by economic necessity, has always hired recent college graduates.
He also praised Brooklyn’s tech culture, the quality of its pool of high-technology workers, and the fact that it supports small businesses like his and gives them room to grow. Since he began his company he has moved to larger offices three times — each time within DUMBO.
Although the focus was on the NYU-Polytechnic plan for 370 Jay St., mention was also made of Carnegie Mellon’s plan for an applied science center at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Cornell’s proposal was number one, but we hope NYU’s and Carnegie Mellon’s proposals will be numbers two and three,” Markowitz said.
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