Lower Manhattan in New York City is world-famous as a finance and banking centre, with Wall Street as its hub, but now the city has ambitious plans to build a high-tech 'Silicon Island' right next door.
Roosevelt Island has been used for a prison with inmates including the jazz singer Billie Holiday in the 1920s. It has been a mental asylum and an isolation hospital.
Now, the thin stretch of land beside Manhattan is soon to become a $US2 billion hi-tech launchpad for the industries of the digital age, the BBC reports.
The city has ambitious plans to build a state-of-the-art campus and with it develop another global reputation as a centre for technology and digital enterprise.
The highly ambitions project to create a research hub from scratch is being watched as a blueprint for other countries trying to find a way to kick-start such hi-tech innovation.
Its origins go back to the financial crash of 2008, when city authorities looked nervously at an economy over-reliant on finance and banking, the BBC says.
The new digital giants, such as Google and Facebook, were coming out of technology clusters around Stanford University in Silicon Valley and Harvard and MIT in the Boston area.
New York decided it had to compete. Mayor Michael Bloomberg invited universities across the world to take part in a competition to build a new science campus.
The winner was Cornell, in partnership with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
The first classes are set to begin this autumn and while the Roosevelt Island campus is being constructed, the university will to be housed by Google in Manhattan, free of charge until 2017.
It has hired Twitter's chief technology officer to promote links between the academic world and the technology industry.
The start-up has also had the support of old-fashioned philanthropy. Charles Feeney, a reclusive billionaire, famous for not owning a car or his own home, stumped up $US350 million.