Kate Bicknell: Cornell Tech and Careers in Real Estate

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Daniel Harrison Willis

Kate Bicknell, Sr. VP Forest City Ratner

Kate Bicknell (99’), Senior Vice President of Forest City Ratner, visited the Baker Program in Real Estate last Thursday in a highly anticipated speaker series. During her time at Forest City Ratner, one of the nation’s leading mixed use development firms, Bicknell has played an integral role in the development of major projects, including the ongoing development of Cornell’s new tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

Bicknell had time to touch on FCR’s approach to real estate, discussing her involvement in several projects. She also discussed her company’s history working in private-public partnerships, and how these relationships give it an advantage over other mixed use developers. Using Cornell Tech as an example, she talked with students about FCR’s previous experience working with universities, and how this experience gave her company an edge when competing for the chance to develop Cornell Tech.

Winning the bid to develop Cornell Tech is a big deal. The campus is a multi-phase development that will see the completion of over 2 million square feet of new real estate over the next 25 years. Bicknell noted that when she first heard about the possibility of developing the campus on Roosevelt Island, she and her team knew that it could be something special. The opportunity, which stemmed from the great recession in 2008, was created by Mayor Bloomberg in an attempt to diversify NYC’s economy by encouraging growth in the tech sector. For this purpose, he set aside 12 acres on Roosevelt Island for a new type of school, one that would diversify NYC’s economy by bringing “industry and academia together to spur innovation and the commercialization of new product and technologies.”

Cornell Tech Campus
Cornell Tech Campus

As the development manager for the overall campus, Forest City is involved in each of the design elements incorporated into the campus. Talking with students about the importance of the school for New York City, Bicknell was able to impress upon students how each of the buildings was designed with a mission in mind. This mission, “to grow the tech sector, [] to launch new tech companies in New York,” is behind every detail in the new campus. Bicknell also discussed how “a key aspect of this is partnering with private industry,” to bring in a mix of established companies and startups to take advantage of a pipeline of tech oriented graduate students.

In order to bring in Tech companies, FCR knew that they needed to develop a special place for them to operate. This is where The Bridge, a 242,000 square foot office building that will bridge the gap between academia and industry, comes into the picture. The Bridge is where private sector tech companies will have the opportunity to physically be on campus working side by side with the faculty members and grad students. Bicknell and Forest City see a unique opportunity in this, noting how this interaction creates an exceptional piece of real estate that will use the talent available on campus to draw companies to the space.

Baker students, who received a behind the scenes glimpse of the design of the new campus, were inspired by the forward thinking design. Graduate student Tej Reddy noted how FCR’s unique approach to “mix students with startups and established companies will position with their office space on Roosevelt to be at the forefront of the tech industry in New York City.”

In addition to talking with Baker Students during the Distinguished Speaker Series, Bicknell was generous with her time, mixing and interacting with Cornelians throughout the day. One of the events which triggered buzz around campus was her headlining the first ever forum for CornellREW (Cornell Real Estate Women). During the open forum, she discussed all things real estate and answered questions ranging from the technical aspects of mixed use development to the soft skills necessary to advance in the industry. Caitlin Elliott, the Founder and President of CornellREW, moderated the forum. There were many takeaways, and Bicknell emphasized “integrity and trust as one of the most important pieces of having a successful real estate career,” and how building relationships is as important as building the real estate.

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