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Get in Losers, We’re Building a ‘Climate Center’ at Sea Level on Governors Island

SUNY Stony Brook's "New York Climate Exchange" is just part one of a plan to completely transform the island.

A rendering of the future New York Climate Exchange on Governors Island.

(Courtesy of SUNY Stony Brook)

In the heart of New York Harbor, in the middle of an unprotected flood zone, New York City is about to make a huge investment in studying (and making money off of) climate change. 

Last year, Hell Gate reported on a plan backed by City Hall, the Trust for Governors Island, and Big Real Estate to transform Governors Island and its sleepy, undeveloped 172 acres south of Manhattan into a 24/7 mixed-use neighborhood complete with a shopping district and 200 parking spaces. 

Today, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the City would be moving ahead with the next phase of that transformation—by giving the contract for the building of the "New York Climate Exchange" to a group headed by SUNY's Stony Brook University. SUNY Stony Brook beat out a competing plan from CUNY and Northeastern University in the race for who would be able to spearhead what was first proposed by the de Blasio administration as merely a "climate solutions center," but soon came to include a hotel and entertainment center—additions that were present in each of the three final proposals for the project. 

That proposed climate hub was at the center of a rezoning of parts of the island, done during the final months of the de Blasio administration, which opened up a large swath of it for development. Right now, the proposed New York Climate Exchange would only cover a small portion of that development area. A lawsuit challenging the rezoning was dismissed this past December. 

The renderings of the SUNY Stony Brook plan look a little different than they did during a public preview of the finalists last fall (they added some solar roofs)—but beyond the renderings, details are still scarce, and will most likely remain so until a developer is chosen. The university plans to build two new buildings on the east side of the island, and renovate the currently unused Liggett Hall and Fort Jay Theatre, two historic buildings left over from the island's time as a military base. The New York Climate Exchange would serve as both an education center and "business incubator" for people working in the climate industry. During his announcement this morning on Governors Island, the mayor hailed the new buildings, which would be completely electric-powered (i.e., not use fossil fuels for heating or power) and made from timber. 

"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 with the New York Climate Exchange," the mayor said, while touting a project that he says will (and take these numbers with a huge grain of salt) create "7,000 permanent jobs and a billion dollars in economic impact."

The money for the project will come from a few sources. Hedge fund billionaire and Stony Brook megadonor Jim Simons will front $100 million, while Michael Bloomberg will chip in another $50 million. The City has already committed $150 million, and has already taken steps to upgrade some infrastructure on Governors Island in preparation for development, including building new sewer lines and a reconstructed pier to support construction activities. The City also currently subsidizes the Trust for Governors Island (a nonprofit "instrumentality" of the City which technically owns the island), to the tune of $15 million each year. The Trust has defended further additions of parking to the island by saying that while private cars will still be banned, contractors and construction vehicles will need a place to be stored on the island. 

While the Trust for Governors Island has claimed that further development on the island is necessary for its financial stability, their own projections show that deficits will balloon in the first few years of development on the island, with financial sustainability only coming, at the earliest, by 2050. 

Only the New York Climate Exchange will be subject to a design competition. The rest of the island, including a 26.5 development zone on its south end (where the Exchange will be sited in part of) and another area on its west side, will possibly one day be made available to real estate developers directly through the Trust. There is no timeline for when development of those areas will begin.  

Construction on the New York Climate Exchange is set to begin in 2025, with the campus set to open in 2028. It's not known yet who will win the lucrative contracts to build the new buildings and renovate the old ones, but SUNY Stony Brook probably won't have to look further than the Trust's board, which is stacked with developers. 

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