Union Square tech center gets $100,000 grant from Microsoft

The Union Square Tech Training Center will offer trainings from companies like Per Scholas. Above, students attend a class Tuesday at Per Scholas' center in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The Union Square Tech Training Center will offer trainings from companies like Per Scholas. Above, students attend a class Tuesday at Per Scholas’ center in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Photo Credit: Sean Berthiaume

The proposed Union Square Tech Training Center is getting the backing of Microsoft.

The technology company has committed $100,000 to Civic Hall, the nonprofit that will operate a digital skills training center in the 21-story building, at 124 E. 14th St., the city’s Economic Development Corporation said.

The goal of the center, which will have about 20 classrooms across three floors, will be to create “a pipeline to jobs” in the tech industry for communities that don’t typically have access to the education needed to be hired in that field. Civic Hall has partnered with city organizations that provide tech and job trainings to underserved communities — such as Per Scholas, FEDCAP and Mouse.org — to use the classroom space and collaborate under one roof.

The hope is the organizations will share curricula, teachers, equipment and data, and give students the opportunity to take classes from multiple companies, founder and CEO of Civic Hall Andrew Rasiej said.

The Union Square Tech Training Center is proposed for 124 E. 14th St.
The Union Square Tech Training Center is proposed for 124 E. 14th St. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

The building will also have affordable space for startups and market-rate space for established tech companies, with the hope that people going through the training center can be hired by companies within the building, the EDC said.

“This focus on shared resources and what happens when we come together and do things collectively, that really isn’t something that’s been tried elsewhere,” director of Microsoft Cities John Farmer said. “This is actually something really interesting and unique that can be an example for New York City, but also for the entire world.”

The Tech Training Center was proposed by the de Blasio administration in February 2017, in partnership with the developer RAL. It has been approved by the local community board, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the City Planning Commission. City Council’s Zoning and Franchises subcommittee will be voting on it on Thursday.

At a hearing earlier in July, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who represents the district where the tech center would be built, raised a concern of ensuring the services will reach the underserved communities in the area.

Civic Hall and the development team have met with more than 35 community groups, including the Lower East Side Employment Network, to reach the people who need their services most, Rasiej said.

“We’ve been meeting on a regular basis to make sure that that community feels like this building and this facility is part of the community and they can access it,” he said. There’s also an advisory board with the goal of making sure the building is accessible to underserved communities.

The organization expects at least 90 percent of students at the tech center to attend classes for free, Rasiej added.

Per Scholas, which currently has centers in the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant, knows firsthand that there are people in the area who would benefit from a more central location, program director Priya Ramanathan said.

“We have a student who actually grew up on the Lower East Side in public housing and commuted every day up to the Bronx,” she said. With the Union Square building, “he could have commuted just 15 minutes versus the hour/hour-twenty that it takes to get up to the Bronx.”

Some community members have said they fear the development will lead to more high-rises in the surrounding neighborhoods, specifically Greenwich Village and East Village.

But for Civic Hall, the location is key to achieving the goal of reaching people who haven’t had opportunities in the tech industry.

“This is a building that’s in a very prominent physical location, Union Square, so it’s also sending a message. The city is sending a message that it wants its population to be able to participate in the 21st-century economy,” Rasiej said.

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