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Willets Point snubbed in mayor’s plan for new college

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Queens has been left out of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s official plan to bring an applied sciences university to New York City.

The Bloomberg administration issued a request for proposals for the initiative last week, and despite pressure from a cadre of borough leaders and advocates, none of the preferred sites listed is in Queens.

The RFP is the latest step in the promising city bid, unveiled in December, to attract a university, institution or consortium to the city to develop and run a campus aimed at creating a new Silicon Valley to bring tech jobs to the city.

“During the 1980s and ’90s, Silicon Valley — not New York — became the world capital of technology start-ups, and that is still true today. But if I am right — and if we succeed in this mission — it won’t be true forever,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “The Applied Sciences NYC initiative will serve as a major catalyst for New York City’s local economy for decades.”

In exchange for building such a school, the city will provide support and partnership, infrastructure investment of up to $100 million and access to city-owned land. Bloomberg previously identified four locations as prime for such development, namely the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Roosevelt Island, Governors Island and the Farm Colony on Staten Island. The Staten Island site was dropped from inclusion in that elite list in the official RFP.

“We are not going to include Willets Point in the Applied Sciences RFP because it would represent a significant diversion from a great plan for affordable housing, retail and open space,” city Economic Development Corp. spokesman David Lombino said earlier this month.

But Queens leaders are not dropping their efforts to bring that Silicon Valley concept to Queens, particularly Willets Point, which they argue is the best place for such investment.

Jukay Hsu, the 26-year-old Flushing founder of Coalition for Queens: Silicon Valley 2.0, a nonprofit aimed at doing just that, has led the charge on the issue, enlisting the support of local civic groups, politicians and other crucial partners.

He said that despite the city’s unwillingness so far to officially include Willets Point in the plan, the group will continue to advocate for it to be a place for universities to consider because of its unique aspects, such as its size at 62 acres, its status as a major transportation hub and its close proximity to a talented workforce and world-class cultural attractions.

“They’re not willing to put it in the RFP, but they’re willing to look at any site schools want to consider,” Hsu said. “I think we can include a campus at the Willets Point site, we just need to build community support, and I think we have that and we’re working on building that further. I think our argument is really reasonable: Why not let the schools decide?”

An EDC financial analysis projects that bringing a tech school campus of the sort Bloomberg is courting would generate about $6 billion of overall economic activity for the city over 35 years and create 22,000 permanent jobs.

Two dozen schools, including Stanford and Cornell universities, are considering Bloomberg’s initiative.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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