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Kips Bay $1.6B life sciences center moves forward amid questions over loss of CUNY dorms at Hunter College


The plan to build a massive, multibillion-dollar life sciences hub on the Kips Bay site of Hunter College dorms is moving ahead amid concerns over how the school plans to replace the loss of the its most affordable student housing.

Science Park and Research Campus Kips Bay, known as “SPARC Kips Bay,” is set to replace Hunter’s Brookdale Campus in the near future with nearly 2 million square feet of space for life sciences, healthcare and academia. It will take up the full block currently occupied by the campus between East 25th and 26th Streets and First Avenue and the FDR Drive, bringing three new interconnected towers, open space and a new accessible pedestrian bridge to the riverfront.

On Wednesday the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is spearheading the project, put out a request for proposals for a firm to manage the two-phase construction — a contract expected to be worth over $1 billion. It comes ahead of SPARC Kips Bay entering the formal rezoning process later this summer.

Beyond the upfront investments of $1.6 billion from the city and state and $2 billion in private backing, the science park project is expected to generate $42 billion in economic impact over the next 30 years and create thousands of jobs. Construction is scheduled to start in late 2025 and continue through 2031.

SPARC will feature classrooms and labs for three CUNY branches — including a new home for Hunter’s School of Nursing, currently located on the site — plus a science-focused public school and space for the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and NYC Health + Hospitals.

“Each year, CUNY enrolls about 40,000 students in health and human services programs, and this state-of-the art facility will prepare them to work in New York’s growing life sciences and public health sectors as well as create much-needed jobs in these fields to help our economy,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez has said.

SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)
SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)

But missing from the plan are any details on if or how Hunter plans to replace the dormitories on the Brookdale campus, which is currently home to 650 or so students. While the student body of about 23,000 is largely made up of commuters, a small percentage  live in Hunter’s three dorms.

At a maximum cost of $7,600 a year, the Brookdale location is by far the college’s cheapest housing option. The current dorms will close after May 2025 ahead of SPARC’s construction, set to launch later that year.

“CUNY will ensure that students at Brookdale dorms who wish to reside in CUNY dorms will be accommodated in other CUNY dorms located elsewhere in Manhattan and those living in Brookdale prior to the project announcement will be guaranteed housing at their current rate,” said a university spokesperson.

But there are no public plans to rebuild or relocate the dormitories despite calls from locals and the Hunter community — and the dire ongoing housing shortage and affordability crisis. The CUNY spokesperson would not address the question of whether any replacement dorms are planned.

SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)
SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)

P.M. Campbell is a rising senior at Hunter and an organizer with Back Brookdale, a group of Hunter students and alumni that don’t want to lose affordable housing.

“Hunter students want a sense of community, a place to gather after class. That’s very much lacking in the CUNY system, or at least at Hunter,” he said.

“I currently live in the Bronx, so my transit to Hunter college is an hour there and an hour back every day, which means compared to my friends that live in the city, I’m spending a lot more time traveling than studying. More time on the train than in my classroom,” Campbell added. “For a school that’s supposedly for the working class, you would expect them to cater to the living situations. We need affordable housing for these students.”

Jennifer Gaboury, a longtime lecturer and adviser at Hunter, said that for many students at CUNY, additional costs — such as housing or student fees — can be the difference between dropping out and graduating.

SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)
SPARC Kips Bay rendering (Courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation)

“No housing at CUNY goes empty because the need is very high,” said Gaboury, who is also first vice president of the CUNY faculty union. “Honestly this should be a priority. The city and state should be more involved in proactively responding to [this issue] …They have the opportunity to expand the dorms — not just put back 600.”

Last month local Community Board 6 passed a resolution reiterating their desire for SPARC to include income-restricted lodging prioritizing CUNY students and staff; days later Assemblymember Harvey Epstein also reupped his request for housing to be included since the project is being built on public land.

“The reality is we all know there’s a housing crisis in New York City, and with any government-owned property, it’s critical to use that property,” Epstein told the Daily News.

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