Partnership Led by Stony Brook Wins Competition to Create Climate Research Hub on Governors Island
The administration of Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday that a partnership led by the State University of New York at Stony Brook had won a years-long competition to build a Center for Climate Solutions on Governors Island, which will combine interdisciplinary research on climate change with education, in a single physical hub. Universities from around the world were invited in 2020 to offer proposals for the first stage, called a “request for expressions of interest.” A dozen plans were submitted, and narrowed in December 2021 to a shortlist deemed worthy of moving to the final round. That group of three was invited to respond to a “request for proposals” issued last April.
The winning proposal, a $700-million project branded by Stony Brook as the New York Climate Exchange, will be a nonprofit organization dedicated to climate research, solution development, education, workforce training, and public programs. Among Stony Brook’s partners in this effort are institutions of higher learning from both near (Pace University and the Pratt Institute) and far (the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Washington, Seattle), and private-sector collaborators, such as IBM. The project is slated to begin construction in 2025, with a projected opening date of 2028.
The Climate Exchange’s 400,000-square-foot campus will include classrooms, laboratories, research labs, public exhibition space, student and faculty housing, university hotel rooms, and an auditorium space. The plan includes the restoration of more than 170,000 square feet of space within existing, historic structures, such as Liggett Hall and the Fort Jay Theater.
Design features include an all-electric campus, with 100 percent of the energy it consumes generated on site, heating and air conditioning handled by geothermal power, water supplied by captured rain or treated effluent, and New York City’s first commercial buildings utilizing mass timber—an engineered wood product that provides structural support similar to steel and concrete, in buildings sometimes referred to as “plyscrapers.”
The Climate Exchange plan is also bundled with several new public amenities, including a commitment to deliver 4.5 acres of new open space (adding to the existing 120 acres of open space on Governors Island), and ferry service that will run as often as every 15 minutes, and operate 24 hours per day.
Once fully operational, the Climate Exchange campus is expected to host 600 college and graduate students, more than 4,000 elementary and high school student, some 6,000 workforce trainees, and 250 faculty and researchers every year.
Mayor Adams said, “today, here in the heart of New York Harbor, we are taking a giant leap toward a cleaner, greener, more prosperous future for every New Yorker. This first-of-its-kind project will make New York City a global leader in developing solutions for climate change while creating thousands of good-paying green jobs for New Yorkers and infusing $1 billion into our City’s economy.”
Clare Newman, president of the Trust for Governors Island, added, “with today’s announcement, Governors Island’s role as a historic gateway to New York City enters a new chapter, as a place where ideas come to life and hopeful solutions to the climate crisis become reality.”
While Monday’s announcement strove for a celebratory tone, the plan now known as the New York Climate Exchange has been marked by controversy since it was first announced in 2020. Critics are concerned about new building heights and density, traffic, shadows, and the displacement of an urban farm and the Earth Matter compost center. Creating the new facility is part of a larger plan to develop up to 3.7 million square feet of new buildings, some reaching as tall as 225 feet, on an island of low-density historic structures that top out at barely half of that height. These will be located on a pair of building sites (comprising a combined total of 33 acres, or approximately one-fifth of Governors Island) that the City envisions developing for nonprofit, cultural, educational, or commercial uses, which were set aside for such purposes in a 2010 master plan.
The initiative of which the Climate Exchange is a part is predicated, in large measure, on the assumption that some form of massive real estate development is required to generate sufficient cash flow to pay for other, public-benefit activities on Governors Island. This model echoes the approach taken in the Hudson River Park, where property deals (such as air-rights transfers) are the primary source of revenue that has enabled the creation and upkeep of what has evolved into a treasured public amenity.