Jennifer Klein, Cornell Tech’s assistant director for strategic capital partnerships, has been searching for the right partners for Cornell Tech’s hotel and executive center for over a year. “We wanted a partner that understands university campuses, and has a unique, community-focused approach to their projects,” she said.
Finally, in the fall of 2016, she found them: Snohetta, Graduate Hotels, and Adventurous Journey Capital Partners (AJ Capital).
With the plans already being reviewed by the Public Design Commission of the City of New York, Cornell Tech is hopeful that both the Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel and the Verizon Executive Education Center (EEC) will break ground in the summer of 2017 and open in 2019. When opened, Graduate Hotels will operate the hotel, and Cornell Tech will operate the Executive Center.
The 17-story hotel will house a café that will offer a varied menu with hours spanning from early morning through late night, according to Tim Frazen, president of Graduate Hotels and an executive vice president at AJ Capital, There will be a bar, an event space on the roof with stunning glass windows and breath-taking views of Manhattan, as well as other typical hotel facilities like conference rooms – but no pool. The hotel’s windows and panes will be elongated to provide a more fluid look.
The EEC will be a 36,000-square-foot complex with various sized spaces and rooms as well as a 300-person hall, the largest on the entire campus.
The center will feature a partially wood-looking exterior to offset the metal and glass buildings that will surround it. It will also include a stone-paved courtyard and wood benches. According to Michael Cotton, lead architect from Snohetta, “Both the EEC and the hotel will be minimum LEED Silver,” to continue the green building tradition of the campus designs.
AJ Capital is a Chicago-based hospitality and real estate investment company, with a portfolio of hotels, resorts, and member clubs. They launched the Graduate Hotels brand in 2014 to focus on hotel development and investment in university-centric towns by building “soulful” hotels that fuse the neighborhood history with the current community.
“We liked that each Graduate Hotels project is different, and that they take design influences from the neighborhoods they are in,” said Klein.
Tim Frazen confirms the company’s particular interest in rooting their hotels in their surroundings. “We expect to meet with the community often over the coming two years of development,” said Frazen. “Not only is it important that the overall design of the hotel reflect the surrounding community, but we strive for each of our hotels to become the living room for the community. In fact, to start, Chief Creative Officer Andrew Alford and Judy Berdy, president of The Roosevelt Island Historical Society, have already been introduced to each other and have begun a dialogue.”
According to Frazen, Graduate Hotels does not see the location of the hotel on Roosevelt Island as a challenge. In fact, he is more excited than doubtful. “We see an irreplaceable location with jaw-dropping views of the New York City skyline only a 10-minute subway ride to Central Park and 20 minutes to the heart of Times Square. And, we see a vibrant community with a history and heritage all its own.”
Frazen, along with partner David Rochefort, vice president of acquisitions and asset management at AJ Capital, recognizes the opportunity in partnering with a leading university in what they see as “arguably the most transformative campus in the world.” Incidentally, Rochefort is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Snohetta architects, originally from Norway, are not your typical hotel developers. They are a trans-disciplinary firm that combines architecture, landscape, interior and brand design in projects ranging from the 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion and the great Alexandria Library in Egypt, to laboratory landscapes and street fair designs. They have worked on tens of projects, winning numerous awards. Their philosophy revolves around collaboration on many different levels as they pay close attention to sustainability. Cotton called the project a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Cotton believes that the Cornell Tech campus will be at the forefront of technology and innovation and is excited about being associated with such an institution. He also likes the views he gets to work with.
It is thanks to Snohetta that the hotel and executive center, which were supposed to be housed in one big building, will be built as two parts with more open space, while remaining efficient and sharing one utilities structure. Cotton explains, “creating an architectural form that expressed the unique partnership between the Hotel and EEC was of upmost importance. This led to the idea of a courtyard that will be shared between [them], but also with the Cornell Tech campus, Roosevelt Island, NYC, and visitors from the world over.”
“Snohetta has been a tremendous partner in the project,” said Frazen. “We knew that Snohetta had been awarded both the hotel and executive education center when we began discussing our involvement with Cornell, and were, and continue to be, excited to work with such a pre-eminent architect firm on the exterior design of the hotel building.” Cotton is just as positive; “The relationship has been great...it was very important that the development partner for the hotel have a unique brand and be willing to think outside the box.”
According to Frazen, his project team meets weekly with Michael Cotton of Snohetta to maintain solid progress and ongoing integration.
Residents and Community
Looking to the future process and opening of the hotel, Klein said they are “currently getting input from the community via the NYC Public Design Commission’s review process and, as with all of the buildings on campus, will provide updates to the community through the Task Force and Town Hall meetings.”
Frazen said that Graduate Hotels plans to reach out directly to the Island community. Although he said it was too early to advertise specific resident perks they planned to offer, the company does intend to host a job fair on the Island for residents prior to opening, as well as maintain a job board for ongoing opportunities.