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New York City Unveils Plans for Union Square Tech Hub Project

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the Union Square Tech Hub, a new location for Civic Hall, a "front door" to the future.

Starting to deliver on a pledge made days earlier in his State of the City address, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed plans to create the Union Square Tech Hub, a city-backed project that would bring an estimated 600 “good-paying” tech jobs to Manhattan and provide a new home for Civic Hall, a digital job training facility and space for start-ups.

De Blasio unveiled project details on Friday, Feb. 17 as he met with employees at tech firm AppNexus, a few blocks northeast of Union Square. The mayor’s press office also released renderings of an office space that would not just house companies, but could also help mold the very future of tech.

During his State of the City address on Monday, de Blasio committed to leading creation of 100,000 jobs, including these innovation positions, during the next 10 years – and to adding 40,000 jobs over the next four years.

“This new hub will be the front-door for tech in New York City. People searching for jobs, training or the resources to start a company will have a place to come to connect and get support. No other city in the nation has anything like it. It represents this City’s commitment to a strong and inclusive tech ecosystem,” de Blasio said on Friday in a news release from the mayor’s press office.

In remarks afterward, at a panel discussion at AppNexus about the importance of technology and computer science education, he confirmed the hub will be an economic development and job creation mechanism. But de Blasio also delivered a thinly-veiled political message about the project's deeper significance.

"I will be nonpartisan. I will be above the fray but I think I can code this properly – watch me. It’s about protecting democracy. It’s about protecting an open society," de Blasio said, to a whistle and applause from the audience. "I think you were able to infer my meaning," said the mayor, a Democrat, going on to praise the tech community's "fervent passion for ensuring an openness of information and debate and an inclusive society."

In a statement, James Patchett, president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, called the project “a new beating heart for the innovation community” in the heart of New York City.

The city’s Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan said it sends “another clear signal to the tech community across the country and around the world that New York City is committed to the next generation of digital and technology innovation.”

“Come build here, grow here, thrive here,” Sreenivasan said.

Robert A. Levine, president and CEO of RAL Development Services, the hub's developer, said the hub will help give promising young companies “the leg up they need to flourish in the neighborhood,” and provide tech companies with a steady supply of future employees.

“Look out Silicon Valley, here comes Silicon Alley, supported by a city government that is providing the funding, space and data the tech sector needs to thrive," said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos.

Andrew Rasiej, founder and CEO of Civic Hall, said the company is “thrilled” to be the anchor tenant of a project that “solidifies the city of New York's commitment to making sure every New Yorker has access to 21st-century skills and jobs.”

“When complete, the facility will not only produce thousands of new digitally trained workers to support the city’s fast-growing technology ecosystem, but will also act as a model for how technology can support economic and civic renewal,” Rasiej said in a statement.

In remarks before the panel discussion, Raisej praised the mayor and the city for their commitments to the tech community, which he called the most diverse and empathetic in the world.

"Its greatest strength is actually not the technology created here but the human capital," Rasiej said.

He introduced de Blasio as someone who "recognized that the entire concept of a true social and economically equal society could not be met without also providing access to state-of-the-art workforce develeopment skills and jobs."

The hub building at 124 East 14th Street is currently the site of PC Richard & Sons Union Square. But plans call for it to be transformed into a center for “civic innovation, job creation and fluid work and learning opportunities” in a tech-savvy facility, the city said. The 258,000-square-foot project is expected to create more than 800 construction jobs.

Located on city-owned land, the $250 million project will offer “the best-in-class programs offering affordable digital skills training for New Yorkers seeking to join the 21st-century economy – all in wired, open and accessible workspaces,” the mayor’s office said via news release.

Its design  will contrast with more traditional work spaces, characterized by cubicles, corner offices and five- to 10-year leases, and be capable of meeting the rapidly changing needs of tech companies.

Instead, the hub will offer 58,000 square feet of “fluid space needed to attract diverse growth-stage companies,” including flexible expansion capabilities and shorter lease terms starting at six months.

It will also feature a 36,500-square-foot tech training center, classrooms and “breakout spaces” for learning. There was no word from the mayor's office on exactly when construction might begin.

As the anchor, Civic Hall, the collaborative work and event space of more than 1,000 members, will continue its mission of advancing technology for public good. Current Civic Hall members include community organizations, tech companies, city, state and federal agencies, and entrepreneurs.

Going forward, it plans to add the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education, General Assembly, Per Scholas, FedCap, Code to Work, and Coalition for Queens as workforce development partners. They, in turn, will help remove some of the existing barriers to tech education – in part by offering discounted training at the hub.

Several of the partners said in statements that they, too, are very pleased about the project.

Per Scholas Executive Vice President Angie Karmath pointed out that its employers, students and alumni would be able to use the facility to upgrade their tech skills.

“As we all contemplate how automation and the new industrial revolution 4.0 is impacting our current and future workforce, we are thrilled to work alongside some of the city's best technology education thinkers to equip New Yorkers with the skills to succeed,” Karmath said.

Melinda Chang, CEO of Code to Work, noted that Code to Work’s mission centers on increased collaboration in city tech.

“A critical step toward this is the creation of a centralized hub where educators, employers, jobseekers and policymakers can come together and create meaningful impact for workforce development in New York City,” Chang said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.